Each new book by Booker Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) is, on the surface at least, vastly different from those that have come before. The Buried Giant—his first novel in almost 10 years—is no exception. This fable-like narrative, set in England just after the mythic reign of Arthur, chronicles the adventures of an elderly couple as they journey across a wild and rugged landscape. Old and forgetful, but still endearingly in love, Axl and Beatrice have been cast to the margins of their settlement, not even allowed candles for fear that they may do themselves harm. So, they decide to set out for their son’s village, which they believe they can reach with a few days’ travel. But the landscape abounds with human hostility and ignorance, as well as the shadowy possibility of ogres and other mythical beasts.
The couple, who are Britons and Christians, are joined mid-journey by a young Saxon knight, Wistan, as well as a boy, Edwin, whom the knight has rescued from the hands of superstitious villagers. This unlikely quartet meets an aging Sir Gawain, the last survivor of Arthur’s round table, in the woods, and makes its way to a fortress-turned-monastery.
Despite the swords and monsters, this is not the sex and violence fictional world of George R.R. Martin. Ishiguro has crafted a haunting allegory, rife with symbols and archetypes. Its deceptively simple narrative unfolds with the ease of a timeless fairy tale, and as with all classic fairy tales it works as a universal parable. Like much of Ishiguro’s work, The Buried Giant is about the clouds of memory, our human imperfections and our unresolved pasts. It is a welcome return by one of our most subtle, thought-provoking novelists.