Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September Book Review Club: THE BURIED GIANT

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

The Book Review Club is back and ready to read! Hope the summer was splendid but you got more rain than we did. No high hopes for the apple harvest.

On the other hand, a new crop of books! Don't forget to click the icon for more reviews. 

By Kazuo Ishiguro
Hardcover: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
Paperback: Vintage International, 2016

King Arthur is dead and buried. The wars between Britons and Saxons have dwindled to an unsettled truce. And so, the elderly couple Axl and Beatrice feel it’s reasonably safe to travel from their settlement, a warren dug into a hill, to find their son in a distant village.

They don’t exactly remember details about their son. Why are they living apart? Do they really know the way to his village? Not sure.

Blame it on the mist—that’s what everyone calls the odd loss of memory that’s settled on England in recent years. Like a fog, it comes and goes—one minute you don’t remember anything older than a few months, but then the gloom lifts long enough for a dim memory to return. Only to fade again hours later.

Axl and Beatrice are devoted to each other, but they don’t exactly remember how or why they fell in love, or much about their years together. Is this a good thing, this living in the moment? Or are they missing the real beauty of their lives?

THE BURIED GIANT is flat-toned, written in amber. There are no sharp colors, no thrills or real moments of tension, just a vague sense of unease and a gradual awakening. Its author, Kazuo Ishiguro, is adept at characters who don’t reveal all—the Booker Prize-winning THE REMAINS OF THE DAY is one of his books. In this case, the characters’ secrets are hidden from themselves as well as from us.

It sounds like a complete bore, and yet I found this book hard to put down. The characters are just so dear—especially Axl, our primary narrator. His focus is on Beatrice, how to keep her safe and happy, how to deal with that worrying pain she has in her side. And yet we (and he) keep getting hints that he lived a bolder life at one time, a warrior and a trusted emissary.

He and Beatrice have plenty of adventures on their way to find their son. They meet Saxons, Britons, upright knights, bad monks, pixies, ogres, and eventually a dragon.  Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew and trusted lieutenant, wanders in and out as a decrepit, befuddled relic of bygone glory. Merlin had his hand in things, long ago.

It’s all told in that flat tone. At one point a potentially thrilling scene even is told in retrospect, all danger over. This should be a buzz-kill but . . . then there are those mysteries. What IS the source of the mist? Who IS Axl?

What does memory do for us? What if we forgot we were at war?

This probably won’t be your book of the year—it’s a tad too muted for that. There’s a feeling that it never really digs down, just skims the surface of things. The mysteries are solved, but the forces behind them remain vague. Nevertheless, it’s a lovely read and will stay with you.

Autumnal, in fact.

(Dear FCC: This was a birthday present, suggested to my beloved by the wizards at Blue Hill Books. Nobody paid me to review it or even cares that I did. Autumnal indeed.)