The Buried Giant - 2015 Reading Challenge

The thing about setting myself the goal of reading 50+ books in a year is that I get carried away. I did pretty well in January, just reading one at a time and reviewing as I went. Then I got crazy and tried reading three books at once. I started Infinite Jest, which is supremely well written as well as being supremely long. As in, competing with War and Peace for word count long. David Foster Wallace's epic has become my commuter Kindle book, and while it's very easy to transport on my little e-reader, I do miss the feeling of accomplishment that turning that many pages of a real book brings.

But anyway. One of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, recently released a new book of short stories called Trigger Warning, so I picked that up a couple of weeks ago and have been making my way through some of what I believe is his best work. Highly, highly recommended. I plan to finish it this week and review shortly after.

The third book was a free giveaway I won from Allen & Unwin: a pre-reader copy of Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel, The Buried Giant. Almost every time I log in to Twitter, I see someone posting a review of the Booker prize-winner's new work, or an interview with the man himself. After reading it, I can see why everyone is so excited.

A book published this year

I have never read a book quite like The Buried Giant. Ishiguro manages to weave a tale with threads of fantasy and history until the reader can no longer be sure which is which. The book follows Axl and Beatrice--a lovely, aged married couple--who leave their modest community and set out on a journey. They live in the wild expanse of Anglo-Saxon Britain, a land populated by dragons and pixies, clouded by an enchanted fog that has stolen the memories away from its inhabitants. It is to find the source of this fog, as well as see their long-lost son, that Axl and Beatrice leave behind their village and face the treacherous land.

Ishiguro reportedly began writing The Buried Giant a decade ago, but became doubtful of himself early on and set it aside for six years. It's no wonder, after his wife told him that he needed to start over from scratch when she read the first 50 pages!

Despite the setback, and despite Ishiguro's own doubts on how his long-time readers will respond to his delving into the fantasy realm, I found The Buried Giant to be a delightful, dare I say magical, read. The love and loyalty between Axl and Beatrice seeps through every sentence of their dialogue and interaction, all the more moving since they cannot even remember any part of their relationship clearly.

I happily followed the couple on their quest. I held my breath for them when they met a Saxon warrior, laughed when they conversed with one of King Arthur's aging knights (still wearing his creaky metal armor even in times of peace), and smiled every time Axl addressed his wife as "princess".

Most of all, I admired this book as a writer myself. Ishiguro manages to explore a dense, controversial theme in an incredibly simple way: Does the collective memory of past wars and hardships affect the way future generations of a nation live? The author could easily have explored contemporary Jewish communities' reaction to the Holocaust, or post-9/11 America, but instead has chosen to write about a long-forgotten and ill-recorded section of British history, making it accessible and comprehensible for all readers.

However, it is not just a nation's response to memories that Ishiguro explores. First and foremost are Axl and Beatrice: the heroes, the unimaginably strong elderly couple who have built a fierce relationship despite their lack of memories. How can this be? How can a couple love each other when they don't even remember their relationship beyond a day or two in their past?

Or is it somehow better, easier to keep a marriage strong when husband and wife can recall no wrongdoing or disappointment?

Make no mistake. The Buried Giant may be easy to read--and indeed one gets the sense that Ishiguro has pared down his prose intentionally--but there is no shortage of complex ideas within its pages. For me at least, this book may be held up as a brilliant example to thwart anyone who contends that fantasy cannot be classified as 'real literature'.

I need help to find a book with antonyms in the title. Any ideas?