REVIEW: THE BURRIED GIANT
The tricky thing with fantasy is that it tends to be a bit of a hit or a miss for most. There is just a lot of risk in spinning a tale of wild adventure and in spite of what Literature "experts" would have us believe, there really is not a single winning formula to tell the "hero's tale." Sometimes fantasy is too complicated or extravagant, others it is convoluted and dull, but sometimes a story fails to entertain simply because it lacks a certain magic or thrill. Kazuo Ishiguro's THE BURRIED GIANT fell into the third category for me. It came recommended to me by a fellow indie author (the book itself is not indie) and the premise, along with this gentleman's review of it intrigued me. It is a relatively charming tale starring a lovely elderly couple who are on a quest to reunite with their son whom they have not seen in many years. Along the way they will meet a brave warrior, an old knight of King Arthur's court, and a cursed boy. It's a tale on as epic a scale as one could ask for but for all its charming qualities, there are an equal number of things that made this a rather dull novel to trudge through.
HOW I RATED IT
2/5 This is a story that I really wanted to like and at times I truly did enjoy it, but in the end, the pacing was too casual, the intensity too nonexistent, and the ending far too unsatisfactory for me to rate it any higher than I have. With all of this said, I will be entirely candid in saying that this is one of my more subjective reviews to date.
Fortunately, this review can start off on a genuinely positive note. If there is any one part of this novel that shines, it is definitely in Ishiguro's ability to craft characters that are genuinely endearing to readers. Axl and Beatrice are the stars of this adventure. They're a simple elderly couple who live in a simple little Britain town and have a simple life within their village. The story spends a good long while developing their relationship together in this town and if there is one thing this story is good at, it is showing us the love that exists between these two characters.While here we learn of a magical mist which shrouds the land and seems to make people forgetful of things that they really ought to remember. The main example of this is when people go missing in town and people forget about them, Axl and Beatrice have taken notice of this and have noted that there are certain parts of their own memory that are less than complete. One such memory is that of their son. They remember having him and they seem to know where he is, but can't recall why he is not with them presently. Eventually, they decide that they want to embark on an adventure to reunite with their son who lives in another village. It is a decently long trip for a couple of their age, but not one that they feel they can't do. So they pack up and head off, and it is then that the adventure truly begins.
The rest of the novel sort of falls into a pattern of arriving at a new location, spending some time with the people there, and then moving on to the next place. As one might expect, this leads to new characters joining in on the adventure and all of these personalities are lovely as well. There is a knight of King Arthur's round table who patrols the lands on his trusty steed and behaves as though he is still on his appointed mission from the king. There is a Saxon warrior trained by the Britains who has motives and ambitions which are not always immediately obvious and makes him by far the most interesting character in the cast. Then there is a boy, marked by a terrible wound from a beast and rejected by his home village for fear that he might turn into a beast himself. These characters' paths intersect for large portions in the story, but there are also points where the story follows them separately which does help keep the perspective a little fresher than it would be otherwise. There are other minor characters that also make appearances for short bits of time, but these are rarely individuals who are relevant for longer than the story moments which they appear in. Overall, each of the main characters just feels very unique, charmingly developed, and endearingly authentic to the point where I felt as though I really knew them as well as I might know a dear friend.
The world itself is an interesting place. There are all manners of beasts like ogres, pixies, and dragons roaming about. There are strange folk and mysterious forces which help build a sense of mystical intrigue. And then there is the devilish mist which clouds the minds of even the sharpest individuals. Then there is the great dragon which there is much ado about as there often is in a fantasy world. If all of this sounds like the makings of an exciting tale, you wouldn't be wrong, but this novel also unfortunately does a good job of keeping all of this really interesting stuff hidden from readers. There is an awful lot of babbling about beasts and magic and such but by the time anything mystical was actually shown, I was under the impression that none of it was actually real in this world. And once more magical elements did start playing a part, I legitimately questioned whether any of it was real or if these were all just mad ravings and hallucinations induced by the stresses of a long journey. The sad truth is that the more exciting fantasy elements are so underused that when they do get employed, they actually feel out of place. This makes what could have been a vibrant fantasy world feel more like a mundane one where strange things occasionally disrupt the normalcy of it all.
Like the world/setting, the plot also had a lot of potential for greatness. The characters have clear agendas and there are certainly plenty of strange folk met along the way or unexpected twists that the story takes, but ultimately what kills this narrative is the pacing of it all. Things in this book take their time. And when I say take their time, I am talking about turtle crossing the road slowness (not a little one, but one of those ancient snapping turtles or something that could really care less about you wanting to drive on that road). Conversations drone on and I felt like I was reading the same conversation over and over and over again at different points. A large contributor to this is the way that so many of the characters are a bit forgetful. Their minds are always in a state of confusion and it was neat to see how reality slowly unveiled itself, but these redundant conversation patterns were even used in scenes that were meant to be intense. If you think stories like LORD OF THE RINGS are bad with how much trash talking and battle speeches go on before a very brief fight, then you have seen NOTHING just yet because the pre-fight banter is excruciatingly long. Two standoffs in particular will always stick in my mind as being some of the most painful confrontations I have ever read through. Now given that this is a story primarily about old people, I did not at all expect there to be riveting or otherwise epic battle sequences, I just wanted the narrative to move along at a compelling pace, but it instead gets bogged down for pages at a time.
Adding to the lackluster pacing is the ending. I don't really want to get into why this disappointed me so much or the events leading up to it, but anticlimactic is definitely one word that comes to mind, while unfulfilling is another. It's a heartfelt one for sure, but not one that had the amount of impact I was looking for, especially in terms of Axl and Beatrice's relationship. Had the ending not been as disappointing to me, I think I'd have rated this book a 3/5 (maybe even a 4/5 if it was a really good one), but ultimately this adventure was just too long and too slow to not have an ending that moved me in a profound or unexpected way. I don't think I'd say this is a BAD story, but it's also not one that I enjoyed nearly as much as I could have.
As I stated before, fantasy books are a hit or a miss no matter who you are or how carefully crafted the book might or might not be. In this instance, I did not appreciate the book in the same way that others have. I need stories to move along at a steady, but mobile pace. There are absolutely some things that this book delivered on for me, primarily in the portrayal of its characters, but it lacked the sort of intensity that a fantasy novel really needs to entertain and failed to capture its fantasy elements at least from my perspective of what fantasy ought to be. I will also note that I listened to this as an audio-book, which I found to be very well done. The gentleman narrating the tale does different voices for different characters and I felt like he really enjoyed doing the recording. That said, it did skip in more than a couple of spots which marred the otherwise stellar quality of the presentation.
If you enjoy fantasy tales that are slower and more methodical in nature, then I think this book could certainly entertain. It also is of great worth to anyone looking for a heartfelt love story between an elderly couple and the fact that Ishiguro chose to have an elderly couple be his stars felt very unique in a genre that tends to prefer young, able-bodied heroes and heroines. If you are more like me and like fast-paced, snappy tales that keep you constantly on edge, then this may be one you want to pass on unless you are looking for something a bit different from your normal reading selection.
THE BURIED GIANT can be found in pretty much every imaginable format on Amazon.