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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Review: Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant

There are many classical musical compositions which introduce material bit by bit - instruments, keys,chords, harmonies, melodies ... and then in the final part of the work, bring them all together in a way which achieves for the listener a Katharsis, sometimes remarkably powerful.

Novelists sometimes do the same with their material. You probably don't notice exactly what they are doing - at best, you get glimpses of it. But all the time they are preparing the ground for the conclusion and for the Katharsis they hope to afford the reader.

In this novel, Ishiguro proceeds slowly and confidently, building his strange story. It's set in a historical period  (England's Dark Ages after the Romans left) for which few ready-made literary tropes exist other than those we would use if asked to recreate the world of King Arthur and his Knights - one of the Knights does indeed feature as a main character in the novel. 

I read slowly, enjoying Ishiguro's measured prose and the mysteries he was creating. But really this is a work which in the end depends on the final 18 pages of its 362 total. Ishiguro carries it off, all the material comes together and those final pages are riveting and moving. He has form for this - his early novel The Remains of the Day, though a much more entertaining and accessible book, does the same.

It would be hard work for a Creative Writing class, but if the time could be committed, you could take students through this book demonstrating how the material which will matter in the final reckoning is introduced and how in the last 18 pages all the stops are pulled out. It would be a worthwhile study.