Kazuo Ishiguro's brilliant new novel is a quest set in post-Roman Britain that asks big questions about human existenceby Joanna Kavenna / February 19, 2015 / Leave a comment
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber, £20)
The literary novel isn’t dead—it’s just been turned into a zombie. You can find these zombie novels in the few remaining bookshops, wandering around and muttering in blog-style realist prose. We hear scattered phrases—something about how our narrator wanted the green socks but they are not washed so they must have the blue socks instead—but we hear no more, we have run away screaming. Virginia Woolf tried to dispatch the evangelical realists 100 years ago but they have regrouped. This time they tell us that fantasy is roughly akin to lying, and instead we must all concern ourselves with “reality”—apparently comprised of socks, metropolitan bohemia and relationship dilemmas.
But do not fear. Someone has dared to write an idiosyncratic novel that is also blissfully fantastical. Furthermore he is a novelist of unparalleled distinction: Kazuo Ishiguro.
Ishiguro has always maintained a complex relationship to reality, by which I mean the reality of which realist novelists are so confident. In The Remains of the Day (1989), he portrayed a butler transfixed by social conventions who refuses to acknowledge the Nazi affiliations of his former employer. In The Unconsoled (1995), Ishiguro exiles his narrator, Ryder, to an unspecified European city—more psychic hinterland than topographical realm—where characters vanish abruptly and every dream-like sequence is unfathomable. Though the novel has been described as “surreal” and “absurdist,” it can also be read as a portrait of the unstoppable weirdness of life, and the way people do disappear, mid-conversation, and are taken away from us by death—and how, in the end, we must all disappear ourselves. Similarly, Ishiguro’s previous novel, Never Let Me Go (2005), is set in a parallel version of Britain in which cloned schoolchildren are harvested for their organs. It is often discussed in terms of the “probability” of its science-fiction motif. Yet there is nothing sci-fi about the idea of children being coaxed through their school years, encouraged to develop their talents and raise their expectations, when in the end they must succumb to mortality. If you discuss futility, or transience, as sci-fi propositions, then your readers can consider them without being demoralised entirely. But mortality is still real, alas, even if we approach it by way of fantasy.
Ishiguro’s new novel,…