Monday, April 06, 2015

Fiction: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

If Kazuo Ishiguro is to be believed, he is way past his prime. In a London Telegraph article last autumn, he was quoted as saying he thinks novelists peak in their late 30s and early 40s. “It’s rather like footballers,” he said. “Although novelists peak three or four years after footballers.”

One wonders why, if he really thinks this is so, he would, at 60, publish the novel that seems likely to be remembered as his most ambitious to date.

The Buried Giant (Knopf) is so outside what we understood to be Ishiguro’s oeuvre, it’s been easy for some fans to shake their heads in wonder, while others wring their hands in consternation and still others (an apparent minority) feel this is the best thing Ishiguro has produced.

And me? I’m on the fence a little bit. To be honest, I found aspects of The Buried Giant, Ishiguro’s crack at Arthurian England, to be a bit of a slog. But weeks after reading, aspects and images hang with me. The very best fiction does that, doesn’t it? (That’s what I tell myself.) You don’t always “get” it while you’re reading, but months and years later pieces/passages/images hang with you, having perhaps somehow impregnated themselves in your mind. I suspect that will be the case with The Buried Giant, a book that somehow seems better with the last page turned than it did while reading.

So what’s the hold up? In the first place, it’s very different than the Ishiguro we know and love. Light years, in its own way, from Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day, for which he won the Booker (when he was just 35. Big surprise). And this is not a condemnation, but it has been ten years since his last novel was published. We’ve been waiting a long time. Now… this?

And yet, in some ways, this astonishing work of fantasy truly is Ishiguro’s most audacious -- and ambitious -- novel to date. He has created a classic fantasy journey that brims with messages and memos for our own times.

The Buried Giant is a tapestry: carefully woven, beautifully wrought. One can barely imagine a 35-year-old writer wrapping his mind around it. But the mature Ishiguro has given us one for the ages. Don’t plan on a fast read. This is one you’ll be chewing on for a while.

January Magazine’s 2000 interview with the author is here. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.



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