The Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro ( is a much loved and admired British novelist, screenwriter and short story writer. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, his family moving to England in 1960 when he was five. Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Kent in 1978 and his Masters from the University of East Anglia’s creative-writing course in 1980. He has received four Man Booker Prize nominations, and won the 1989 award for his novel The Remains of the Day. The latter was made into a hugely enjoyable film with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in 1993. (  In 2008, The Times ranked Ishiguro 32nd on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. The Buried Giant is his seventh novel.

From its first line, the novel posits an alternate, fantasy, history of England, a foundational myth lost to time. Ishiguro never explicitly tells us what period we are in, and the reader is held in that opacity for the whole narrative. The England he describes consists of “miles of desolate, uncultivated land; here and there rough-hewn paths over craggy hills or bleak moorland.” The roads left by the Romans are broken or overgrown, ogres roam the marshes and rivers, and a fearsome dragon looms large over the land. In this bleak landscape, an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, set out one morning on a journey to find their son, who they believe lives in a nearby village. But these loving parents can’t seem to remember anything about their son—or much else for that matter.  “After a while Axl could no longer remember how talk of this journey had started, or what it had ever meant to them.” Axl and Beatrice come to blame this amnesia on “the mist,” a layer of fog that lies over the desolate land. As in any fantasy journey, from Le Morte d’Arthur to The Hobbit, Beatrice and Axl are soon swept away in a grand quest: They must help slay a dragon and thereby lift this mist of forgetfulness.

Along the way to the dragon, Beatrice and Axl learn of a mysterious island, a lonely paradise where the inhabitants “walk among its greenery and trees in solitude, never seeing another soul.… “For each traveller, it’s as though he’s the island’s only resident.” Occasionally, however, “a man and woman, after a lifetime shared, and with a bond of love unusually strong, may travel to the island with no need to roam apart.” The strength of the couple’s bond (and thus their worthiness) is judged by boatmen who question the supplicants about their shared memories. In this afterlife, Charon is paid not in coins, but in memories. It eventually becomes clear that what is best for Beatrice and Axl might not be what is best for England, and the elderly couple must come to terms with their individual responsibility in the face of bleak and destructive consequences.

The prose, as in many of Ishiguro’s novels, is lapidary and beguiling, suggestive of secrets to be disclosed. For Ishiguro, a kind of poet laureate of loss, the mercies of forgetfulness hold the greater fascination. The Buried Giant is ultimately a story about long love and making terms with oblivion. It is an eerie hybrid: a children’s fable about old age. In this novel, as in life, love conquers much. You must read it to decide for yourself if love conquers death.

To do so, enquire at your local library or consult  for full bibliographic details.


352 pages in Faber & Faber paperback edition

First published  3 March 2015

ISBN 978-0571315079


Kazuo Ishiguro


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