Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is outwardly a fantasy story of a quest involving a knight, a Beowulf-type hero, a dragon, mythology and various other Medieval markers such as monks and monasteries, and tribal enmity between Britons and invading Saxons.
Strangely, the idea is that the Saxons and the Britons live side by side during a long time of peace after the ‘good works’ of King Arthur in ensuring this peace. Some, however, have faint memories or instinctual hatred or fear of the other tribe but can’t clearly remember why. There is a mist, a fog of forgetting that has worked its way into every person’s memory and all they can remember is short term and only vague shadowy long-term memories. Therefore, peace prevails.
On a whole other level, this novel posits the notion that forgiveness can only ever be achieved by forgetting what has occurred; that humans hold onto their hatreds and fears and suspicions regardless of how hard they try to forgive, that the only way to live in peace with those who have committed crimes against you is to actually forget their crime against you. On a large scale this is depicted through the Britons and the Saxons, both of whom have committed atrocities against each other in their search for land and supremacy: on a smaller scale, the elderly husband and wife in the novel have both committed sins against each other in their early marriage. Because of the fog of forgetfulness, peace reigns in the country, the villages, and the homes.
For those who have read Beowulf, or Arthurian Legends and know something of the time period, this is a very cleverly-written book just from that aspect. Being able to identify the tropes and characters is very satisfying: for those who haven’t, this is still an engaging book along the lines of Lord of the Rings and the heroic quest. The mythology referred to, especially the idea of death and the boatman who will only take one person across the lake or the sea to the ‘island’ in his boat, brings home the idea that everyone must face up to mistakes they have made during their life and meet their death alone, regardless of how attached a couple might be to each other or promises they have made to take that last journey together.
Read on this deeper level, The Buried Giant is a very thought-provoking read even if, like me, fantasy is not usually your genre of choice.