The Buried Giant is a book I picked up based more on complaints than on praise, having seen a number of reviewers say this was nothing at all like Ishiguro’s other works. I have not read anything else by the author, but I do not consider a change in style to be a bad thing. I thought perhaps I might start here and later on read more books to form a basis for comparison.
Coming into this story, it begins somewhat ambiguous and hazy, and as I read on, I found that every single last character is an unreliable narrator. Part of this is explained in the story itself as part of the over-arcing plot. Part of it has to do with the roles two of the characters have to fulfill even as they speak to each other like allies and friends. Ultimately, this ambiguity and unreliable narration make for a slow and sometimes irritating read, because even as the characters confess that this time, they’re really telling the truth, you can’t be sure, and yes, it’s revealed that they’re lying once again. The ending is equally ambiguous and feels like just another lie, and so what seemed at first like a triumphant victory is instead a dreary opening to more and more tragedies.
This is not to say I did not enjoy the journey. All of the characters are interesting, and the setting in the times after the death of King Arthur is a welcome change of pace from my usual modern reading fare. But the hope I invested in the characters feels wasted by the ending, in which every good deed is done not to ensure peace, but to bring about more hatred and animosity between all people. And this elderly couple I’ve followed with some hope of resolution to their past is instead denied, their fates are left in the hands of yet another unreliable narrator.
“But the ending is ambiguous,” one might say. “It is open to interpretation.” No, it isn’t. The very early chapters establish the working routines of certain characters, and knowing their methods, it becomes quite clear the last narrator is lying not only to the characters, but to the reader as well. Thus, a story that begins in hope of redemption ends in destruction, death, and isolation.
Not every story has to end happily ever after, and I did enjoy the story, even if the ending left me feeling cheated. So I’ll give The Buried Giant 4 stars, and I can say for certain that this will not be the last book I’ll read from Kazuo Ishiguro.