Literary fiction? Fantasy? Historical fiction? Something else? 'The Buried Giant' by Kazuo Ishiguro eludes classification. It is a strange, otherworldly story which manages to haunt you for some time. Hallucinatory, mythic, dream-like it certainly reads differently. It is either one to love or one to abandon as an experimental folly.
Set in a post-Roman Britain, the story follows an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, as they leave their simple village to find their long lost son. But it is not easy. A mist covers the landscape, preventing most people from remembering their pasts clearly. And, oh, there are ogres...
Occasionally I love to read a sprawling fantasy novel. I loved 'Lord of the Rings' as a child and have recently posted a review holding 'Magician' by Raymond E Feist in high regard. However, reading 'The Buried Giant' by Kazuo Ishiguro is unsettling. It feels like a fantasy but doesn't read like one. Instead I am inclined to believe Ishiguro has written something to baffle the reviewers and blur the line between the lofty heights of literary fiction and the 'lowly' realm of popular mainstream fantasy. There is an argument that fantasy novels, such as 'Game of Thrones', could never win the Booker Prize. With 'The Buried Giant' it seems like Ishiguro is trying to stake a claim in the opposite. And yet, I am not sure if it quite works.
There are references to Arthurian legend and Sir Gaiwan the Green Knight. Dialogue litters large junks of the narrative. There are stories within stories. In some respects, the story reads more like a medieval epic poem with legends and archetypal imagery. Some elements of the story dragged, while other parts were so surreal and mysterious you couldn't help but read on. The ending, in particular, was hugely sad and I found myself near tears. But why? The narrative had a depth but only in a way that some bizarre dream might have depth; all foggy and half complete. I guess this is what I feel with 'The Buried Giant'; it seems a bit uneven, a bit too trying. But I cannot help but love it. And book clubs should read it only to debate it.
It's not the best fantasy I've read. It's not the best novel I've read by a prize winning author. But it's worth a read if you want something ambiguous and strange.