British Literature

Book Review – The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Without doubt Mr. Ishiguro crafted the most creative work of literature I’ve ever read. The latest Nobel Laureate in Literature fused a fantastic story, superb plot twists along with elements of the Arthurian legend into a memorable tale regarding the power of memory. Ironically, it focused on the lack of ability to remember.

The Buried Giant contained an outstanding setting. The story took place in a medieval society just after the reign of King Arthur. A mysterious mist spread over the land causing denizens to lose their memories. With this backdrop, the author chose to make his novel a quest story. In spite of, or perhaps because of this, two married Britons, Axl and Beatrice, endured a strong marriage. The former, in fact, always addressed his wife as ‘princess.’ While they ostensibly left their village to visit their son, their journey turned into a voyage of discovery. That unearthing included not only the mist’s source, but attributes about themselves. It also made for an entertaining read as the plot developed.

While Axl and Beatrice endeavored on a metaphorical quest, Sir Gawain (of Arthurian legend renown) and Saxon warrior Wistan embarked on a more concrete quest. Both undertook to slay the evil dragon, Quereg. They along with the married couple joined together for a good portion of the journey. I mentioned the author showed extraordinary imagination while writing this, didn’t I?

The novel became philosophical regarding the concept of memory without becoming pedantic. Prior to discovering the mist’s source, Beatrice opined:

Perhaps God’s so deeply ashamed of us, or something we did, that he’s wishing himself to forget. And as the stranger told Ivor, when God won’t remember, it’s no wonder we’re unable to do so. (Page 83)

The monk Father Jonus revealed the source of the mist to Beatrice. (So as not to reveal spoilers, I shall neglect to mention it.) The following dialog ensued.

“Mistress, you seem happy to know the truth about this thing you call the mist.”

“Happy indeed, father, for now there’s a way forward for us.”

“Take care, for it’s a secret jealously guarded by some, though maybe it’s best it remains so no longer.”

“It’s not for me to care if it’s a secret or not, father, but I’m glad Axl and I know it and can act on it.”

“Yet are you so certain, good mistress, you wish to be free of this mist? Is it not better some things remain hidden from our minds?” (Page 171)

Mr. Ishiguro used voice very well in this story. All the characters spoke in ways consistent with their personalities. Sir Gawain addressed others as a noble knight of the Round Table would talk. Even the Saxon, Wistan, also expressed his thoughts like a distinguished warrior. I liked his statement, “You’ve more to fear from your silence than my anger. Speak.” (Page 262)

At times, The Buried Giant read like a work of poetry. The author’s liberal inclusion of alliteration added to this effect. Some examples included:

“pleasant place to pass” (Page 15)

“pollute this precious place” (Page 40)

“soon see his head as smooth” (Page 42)

“tall fence of tethered timber” (Page 51)

“Ivor took a step back and smiled self-consciously.” (Page 77)

“warrior’s way of walking” (Page 104)

“beating back brambles and bushes” (Page 121)

“witness the ways of warriors” (Page 132)

“heads of hideous hags” (Page 190)

“slaughter a sea of Saxons” (Page 233)

“startling them as they sat silently in their semi-circle” (Page 238)

While not alliterative, I thought the expression “pressing in oppressively right” (page 36) exhibited a clever method of expression.

The author melded all these disparate aspects into the narrative brilliantly. While doing so, he thrilled with some well contemplated plot twists. Through all this he kept the story progressing forward. That showed exceptional skill at fiction writing.

At times I did find the dialog a bit repetitive. It made the reading drag at times. All of the exceptional aspects of this book more than compensated for this slight flaw.

I’m jealous of those with the opportunity to read The Buried Giant for the first time. Maybe that mysterious mist will meander into my home and I’ll have the chance to do so again.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York: Vintage International, 2015. EBook.

 

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Book Review – Me before You by Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes crafted an exceptional tale of characters suffering from traumas both visible and invisible in Me before You. In the process she may have written the most unconventional love story every created. The tale also included some unexpected plot developments. A heart warming and heartrending read resulted.

I don’t typically read romantic dramedies so I didn’t know quite what to expect when I began this book. While I had some issues with it I thought both the story and main characters outstanding.

The author introduced readers to twenty six year old Louisa (aka Lou), “an ordinary girl, leading an ordinary life.” This suited her “fine.” (Location 346) Her boyfriend, Patrick, took her for granted. Her family favored her older sister. The story began as Lou lost her job working at a café. (It’s hard to imagine a more “ordinary life” than this in the modern era.) Through an employment service she managed to unexpectedly end up with a job caring for Will: a quadriplegic. This character lived the life of a playboy, extreme sport enthusiast and corporate raider. He experienced an ideal life until his motorcycle accident.

While people who haven’t read the book will no doubt wonder how someone with no medical training obtained a job caring for someone in Will’s condition, I won’t give away spoilers. I would point out that during the interview process Will’s mother, Mrs. Traynor, emphasized how Lou’s previous employer described her “warm, chatty and life-enhancing presence.” (Location 408) These characteristics served as an outstanding contrast to Will’s bitter, surly attitude in the novel.

I give Ms. Moyes great credit for developing the relationship between these oppositional characters as well as she did. Her prose made it seem natural and unforced. That’s a great accomplishment in such an unconventional love story.

In the course of reading Me before You, I hated putting it down. The author hooked me into wondering what would happen next. It’s a testament to the story’s strength that I recalled many of its details close to a month after reading it. It’s ironic that my main criticisms regard how poorly the author wrote it.

The book contained some clichés. The most egregious took place when Will’s former fiancé and his best friend decided to get married. I understand that the author needed to establish how miserable Will’s new life became for him, but this was just too formulaic for me. Some other clichés included when Lou described Mrs. Traynor’s “knuckles were white on the arm of the sofa.” (Location 1641) While the author presented every chapter but one from a character’s point-of-view, I thought the expression “spoiling for a fight” even too banal for a modern person to use in speech.

I also didn’t like the point-of-view changes. I’d estimate that 90% of the narration came from Lou’s perspective. I thought the ones from Mr. Traynor, Mrs. Traynor, Nathan (Will’s “professional” caregiver) and Treena (Lou’s sister) unnecessary. They broke the narrative flow, as well. I would also add that each of these characters only narrated one chapter each. I had trouble following the one from Treena’s point-of-view due to excessive use of pronouns. I couldn’t tell if she or Lou were the one speaking. It’s never good when a reader has to return and re-read the same passage several times.

I thought the author resorted to telling far too often. I couldn’t visualize how Lou “pulls a face.” (Location 100) Lou made a remark that, “It took almost forty minutes for Will’s temperature to return to an acceptable level.” (Location 1277) It made me curious as to what constituted an “acceptable level”. After a crucial conversation between Lou and Will’s mother, the former observed, “It was almost eleven minutes before I finally heard Mrs. Traynor’s car start up and drive away.” (Location 1943) I couldn’t believe Lou had counted them.

While I hate making this point, I found some of the writing just plain lousy. Following a rain storm, “The roads are slick with water.” (Location 127) What else would make them “slick” following a shower? The author began chapter 4 with the sentence “Two weeks passed.” (Location 735) A published author once termed expressions like that as “lazy writing” to me. Lou called Patrick’s description of the “Xtreme Viking Triathalon”: “The Viking was spoken about with reverence.” (Location 922) Not only did the author use passive voice, I doubt anyone would express herself like that in real life.

To be fair, the author did include some outstanding lyrical flourishes. I liked reading about the “pastel-colored wallpaper paste” (Location 742) and the alliteration of the “buds burst from brown branches.” (Location 1474) The chapter from Mrs. Trayor’s point-of-view contained an excellent use of a garden for symbolism.

It was only when we brought Will back home, once the annex was adopted and ready, that I could see a point in making it (the garden) beautiful again. I needed to give my son something to look at. I needed to tell him, silently, that things might change, grow, or fail, but life did go on. That we were all part of some great cycle, some pattern that it was only God’s purpose to understand. I couldn’t say that to him, of course—Will and I have never been able to say much to each other—but I wanted to show him. A silent promise, if you like, that there was a bigger picture, a brighter future. (Location 1724)

The strengths of Me before You far exceeded its shortcomings. For those, like me, who aren’t particularly interested in “love stories”: don’t let the “romance” element dissuade you from reading. I’d recommend to those interested in a moving tale with memorable characters. Just make sure you have some free time available before beginning. I found putting the book down before finishing the most challenging aspect of it.