Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, “The Buried Giant,” is his best book to date. It’s a masterpiece of refined storytelling shot through with deep empathy.
Continuing the trend of literary heavyweights embracing sci-fi and fantasy, the novel is set in the historical darkness of Britain at the end of the Roman Empire, where King Arthur’s knights still walk the land, dragons slumber and spells are more than superstition. An elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, leave the safety of their village to search for their son. However, they can’t recall where he lives, due to a strange affliction that causes native Britons and settled Saxons alike to lose their memories.
On the surface, Ishiguro’s novel is a rollicking tale of adventure and drama, full of sword fights and fantastical creatures, with peril never more than a page or two of dreamy prose away.
Memory has been a major theme of Ishiguro’s since his 1982 debut, “A Pale View of the Hills,” but the fantastical setting in this new book allows him to play with that theme in a way that the realist and mildly speculative settings of previous books didn’t.
Ishiguro seems to embrace James Joyce’s dictum — “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake” — as his central premise. Maybe amnesia isn’t such a bad thing? Axl and Beatrice’s younger lives were mired in suffering, their marriage threatened by mistakes and misunderstandings. By erasing these, the “mist” of forgetfulness that covers Britain has allowed them to grow old together, happily unencumbered by the past. In this, they stand for a Britain where natives and invaders live peacefully side by side, differences of history buried. When memory returns, however, so does animosity.