‘Are you still there Axl?’ To which he would answer routinely: ‘Still here, princess.’
‘The Buried Giant’ was published in paperback in perfect timing for my week on a Greek beach where reading, eating and swimming in the sea were the only activities acceptable. A complete technophobe and book lover, outfits were rejected in favour of space for my collection of reads for the holiday.
The historical setting of post-Roman Britain lends itself perfectly to the metaphorical and fabled journeys of the novel’s characters. This is a beautiful tale that explores the ideas of memory, marriage and truth (rather a deep concept to contemplate from a sun lounger). The meeting of Sir Gawain the Knight and presence of a dragon doesn’t create a feeling of genre bending but rather cements this slightly ethereal tale, making the reader fully aware that Ishiguro is exploring higher ideas through the pages of this novel.
The allegorical journey of Axl and Beatrice and marriage is beautifully represented in their physical expedition to visit the son they have lost touch with. This soon becomes a quest to banish a ‘mist’ that permeates the land, clouding people’s minds, making them forget events and people.
This novel left me questioning my own ideas on memory, honesty and the idea of a ‘perfect’ marriage. Can a long marriage of utter honesty truly be content? Does fading memory actually aid compatibility? I have always been the strongest advocate of honesty and believe it is the foundation on which to build any relationship (much to the chagrin of some more reserved members of my family), but this novel highlights the potential flaws in this. Axl and Beatrice’s beautiful synchronicity feels aspirational at the opening of the novel, but as they begin to leave the ‘mist’ and its powers, their memories that remain just out of reach begin to damage their mutual idolatry.
All in all, this is not a book to read on a sun lounger on the Greek coast. It needs your full concentration and a mind that is ready to go beyond the ‘whodunnit?’ or ‘will they won’t they’ of usual beach reading. That said, it is an absolutely stunning piece of literature which I have already got on my ‘revisit’ list, ready for it to serve up more philosophical insights into old age, marriage and truth.