The Buried Giant

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson

The Buried Giant is set in Britain in the mysterious time a few decades after King Arthur's death. It's the perfect setting for an exploration of how memories fade and resurface and how we feel about them. 

Axl and Beatrice are an old couple who vaguely recall a son who left them to live elsewhere. In their village, a warren of half-underground dwellings, faltering as their memories may be, they have a better grasp on even the recent past than their neighbors. When a strange woman arrives with whom Beatrice risks speaking, her never-completely submerged wish to visit their son surges back. She and Axl set out to find him. As they journey, their desire to dispel the mist of forgetfulness―said to be the breath of a dragon―that has spread across the land becomes as important as their search for their son.

Along the way, they meet sinister pixies and ravening, misshapen beasts. They meet a Saxon warrior who thinks Axl looks like a man he once admired. They meet an elderly Briton encased in armor. They spend time with a community of quarreling monks. The way Axl and Beatrice begin piecing together the story of their past gives their tale the gripping quality of a mystery, and their less and less half-hearted quest to find the cause of the mist of forgetfulness and sweep it away gives their journey an ever-strengthening momentum.

"Is it not better," a monk asks them, "some things remain hidden from our minds?" But Beatrice wants her memories. She answers, "We'll have the bad ones come back too, even if they make us weep or shake with anger. For isn't it the life we've shared?" As glimmers of sad or infuriating memories begin to emerge, though, she feels less confident. Does love―always the highest value in this dreamy novel―sometimes depend on forgetting? (2015, 317 pages)

More about The Buried Giant at Powell's Books or The Book Depository

Other novels set in the post-Arthurian world:

Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott (2009), a reimagining of the Tristan and Isolde legend in a brutally realistic sixth century British setting; #1 in the Twilight of Avalon trilogy. See review or more info at Powells Books.

The Grail Prince by Nancy McKenzie (2002), about Galahad after the death of King Arthur and the fall of Camelot. More info

The Last Dragon by M.K. Hume (2014), about an illegitimate son of King Arthur (called Artor in this series) who struggles to reconcile his sense of duty to Britain with his loyalty to the boy who inherits the kingship; #1 in the Twilight of the Celts series. More info

Nonfiction about medieval fantasy creatures:

Medieval Monsters by Damien Kempf and Maria L. Gilbert (2015), an illustrated compendium of the monsters depicted in medieval art. More info

Dragons, Serpents and Slayers in the Classical and Early Christian Worlds by Daniel Ogden (2013). More info

British Dragons by Jacqueline Simpson (1980). More info


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