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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

   
Author Topic: The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro
wetwilly
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Just finished this fantasy novel by, in my opinion, one of the greatest living novelists (if not the greatest living novelist). I was skeptical because I'm not a big reader of fantasy, and "high lit" authors slumming in genre fiction so often get it horribly wrong, anyway. This did not disappoint, though. Brilliant novel. If you've read his other novels, this one is as good, maybe even better. If you haven't read anything by him, I order you to do so immediately, and The Buried Giant is a good one to try him out with.

Did I mention I liked the book?

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Grumpy old guy
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You, Sir, are a very bad man to throw such temptation at me!

Phil.

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wetwilly
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Come on, Phil, you know you want to read it. Just give in to the power of the book.
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Grumpy old guy
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I wasn't talking about the book, silly. And, seeing I'm trying to maintain my Independently Wealthy status, I don't feel like buying anything at the moment.

That said, Alex Preston's review was interesting and his perception of the book's premise would be fascinating:
quote:
". . .a profound examination of memory and guilt, of the way we recall past trauma en masse . . . about the duty to remember and the urge to forget."
Would you characterise it as such?

Phil.

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wetwilly
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I would, indeed. As well as an unsentimental examination of real-world love and well-earned hatred, and a kick-ass adventure tale to boot.
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Scot
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Great. Another one to add to the list.

[Wink]

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MattLeo
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I read Ishiguro's *When We Were Orphans*, which struck me as a bit... troll-ish. I'll explain what I mean.

In *When We Were Orphans* Ishiguro demonstrates an impressive mastery of the themes and tropes of the classic mystery novel. As I read it, I kept thinking, "This might be the best mystery novel I've ever read."

Reading a mystery novel is, for a mystery fan, a bit going to mass is for a Catholic. Some priests have better voices than others; some are fast and some are slow, etc. You may prefer Father O'Brien's mass to Father DiPaolo's mass, but either way you've still gone to mass; they're equally *valid*.

The sacramental centerpiece of the mystery novel is the resolution of all open questions. Sometimes it comes in summation scene where the detective assembles the suspects and works through all the red herrings and dead ends until the true culprit is unmasked. But even where the author omits that cliche scene the essential thing is that everything is known in the end. That's the whole point. The reader pits his wits against the detective's at wringing the truth out of a mass of facts.

Ishiguro doesn't believe in resolution as something that can established by objective facts. For him it's a choice you make based on a subjective factors. This may have psychological validity, but it makes for an unsatisfying mystery novel. It's as if at the climax of a beautiful mass, Fr. Ishiguro puts the communion wafer on your tongue and instead of saying ,"The body of Christ," he says, "This is just a piece of bread; what matters is what you make of it." That may make for a satisfying theatrical experience, but it's not a satisfactory mass.

Fantasy of course is a lot less formulaic than mystery, and authors often violate reader expectations for artistic reasons; Tolkien and Le Guin come to mind. But it helps to care about genre readers expectations, even or perhaps especially if you're going to violate them.

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extrinsic
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Marketing strategies categorically labeled When We Were Orphans a mystery. The novel is a genre crossover, though: part mystery, part "literary metafiction," somewhat a moral tableau.

A challenge of crossovers is they pose as several genres and lose focus on all. The literary characteristic of the novel is about obsession and attendant vices. Mystery's customs step back from the moral tableau of the novel and the moral tableau short-shrifts taking up the slack.

The mystery puzzles are solved, though a lack of a moral satisfaction leaves the novel open-ended -- metafictional. The overt lack overall is the novel neither asserts a moral law nor discovers a moral truth. Maybe a moral truism discovery, though, a personal realization that, once a goal is accomplished, a life doesn't miraculously change for better fortunes.

A goal seeker is still accompanied by all the attendant personality and identity baggage that antagonized and caused the obsession in the first place, like abandonment issues in this novel's case. A fully resolved moral tableau of the sort would end on a decision and action to come to a closure or accommodation with the self or adjust the self to accommodate to the new normal, which the novel doesn't portray. Too metafictionally abstract an intangible action and an under-realized ending for diehard mystery readers and fans' satisfaction.

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wetwilly
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If the lack of resolution bothers you, definitely don't read The Unconsoled (which I think is a work of incomparable genius; did I mention I like Ishiguro?) It is an entire novel based on nothing ever getting resolved. In fact, Ishiguro in general probably won't be your thing. Although The Buried Giant actually has a relatively neat resolution.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by wetwilly:
If the lack of resolution bothers you, definitely don't read The Unconsoled (which I think is a work of incomparable genius; did I mention I like Ishiguro?) It is an entire novel based on nothing ever getting resolved. In fact, Ishiguro in general probably won't be your thing. Although The Buried Giant actually has a relatively neat resolution.

Oh, it's not "lack of resolution" per se that bothers me. I'm perfectly happy leaving Stevens the butler shuffling along the groove he's worn his life into in *Remains of the Day*. Nor is it the lack of a "happy ending"; even Sherlock Holmes lost two clients to the villains, in *The Adventure of the Speckled Band*, and "The Adventure of the Dancing Men".

Extrinsic hit it on the head: the problem is how the novel was positioned in the market. I have no problem with *When We Were Orphans* as a novel; it's just not a *mystery* novel. In a mystery novel the reader pits his wits against the detective in uncovering the truth, and that truth has to be a question of objective fact, not opinion or existentialist choice.

I went through a phase where I was exploring the boundary between science fiction and fantasy. It turns out there's a lot to be said for the position that the distinction is largely a matter of set decoration and props; that if a story's got elves and wizards it's a fantasy and if it's got rocket ships and scientists in it it's sci-fi. But I got specifically interested in the specific topic of magical thinking, which pervades both science fiction and fantasy literature. I wrote a number of genre bending stories with realistic furniture and fantasy logic and vice versa. What I discovered is that fantasy with realistic logic tends to be polarizing. In epic fantasy the side you choose makes all the difference. Choosing right ensures, if not a happy ending, at least a noble and meaningful death.

Of course this is probably a dead issue now, after Song of Ice and Fire made it onto the TV.

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extrinsic
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Ishiguro and G.R.R. Martin's aesthetic slant leans toward Naturalism's co-opt of Realism's portraits of real-life family heritage, private, public, and professional social life, and living environments' antagonal causality for character personality and moral behavior development. Themes of;

2. The Individual in Society
a. Society and a person's inner nature are always at war.
b. Social influences determine a person's final destiny.
c. Social influences can only complete inclinations formed by Nature.
d. A person's identity is determined by place in society.
e. In spite of the pressure to be among people, an individual is essentially alone and frightened. ("Themes in Literature," Janice Patten, PDF)

Both writers, though they scratch at the edges, short-shrift and overlook Naturalism's other [pivotal and] customary convention -- agonists' eventual, if not sooner, forlorn resignation to pessimism's thrall, a life-is-brutally-unfair variety of nihilism: "traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless," according to Webster's.

[ August 11, 2015, 11:24 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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What a depressing theme; oh, wait, the short story I'm currently working on utilises some of those themes. But in the end I have in mind for the story, it has a resolution, of sorts, and reaffirms the human spirit.

Phil.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Read most of THE BURIED GIANT because of recommendations here, but when I found out what the buried giant really was, I lost interest.

It's a very well-written novel, deceptively simple wording, and interesting characters, but I just began to not care very much, and that's a deal-breaker for me with books any more.

Thanks for the recommendation, though. I don't regret the time I spent on the book.

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wetwilly
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Sure. I guess no author or book is for everyone. For whatever reason, I really connect to Ishiguro's work.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Read most of THE BURIED GIANT because of recommendations here, but when I found out what the buried giant really was, I lost interest.

This reminds me of my reaction to Gore Vidal's mystery novel, DEATH LIKES IT HOT.

Vidal was blackballed by the New York Times book critic in 1948 because of the homosexuality in his novel, THE CITY AND THE PILLAR (the same critic went on to pan Nabokov's LOLITA). Obviously no reviews in the Times puts a serious crimp in the earning potential of an American literary author, so his editor suggested Vidal try his hand at writing a popular novel, to which Vidal famously replied he didn't thing he could be stupid enough to write a popular novel.

But Vidal ended up writing three mystery novels under the pseudonym, Edgar Box. I read one of them, DEATH LIKES IT HOT, and like Ishiguro's WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS it's astonishingly well crafted compared to the usual genre novel, but it doesn't quite work as a mystery novel -- although for different reasons. Ishiguro's not really interested in the central reader experience of the mystery genre; he's just mining it for tropes. The young 27 year-old Vidal is pandering to readers he feels superior to, and can't help showing off his superiority.

Vidal takes as his model Agatha Christie, which is a good start; the Christie formula is eccentric characters, clever plotting, and liberal applications of red herrings. But Vidal tries to outdo the master by really lading on the red herrings. This is a bit like making a puzzle box more harder by making the pieces weigh 800 pounds; yes it makes the puzzle harder, but not in the way it's supposed to be harder.

There's a reason classic mysteries often take place in country houses, ships at sea, and other isolated locations: to produce the central reader experience of a good mystery novel -- matching wits with the detective -- you've got to pare down the number of possibilities to something that seems reasonable for the reader to tackle. Throw in too many red herrings and it's just a bother.

This mastery of the mechanics of a genre without an appreciation of the genre ethos would seem to be endemic to the whole LASIG (Literary Author Slumming in Genre) enterprise. But some thirty years later the older Vidal shows a keen appreciation for fantasy literature, particularly Ursula K. LeGuin, in his review of future Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing's SHIKASTA (see review here, which also takes an entertainingly jaundiced jab at literary fiction). Vidal's made forays himself into speculative fiction with his novels KALKI and DULUTH, which are both on my list to get around to reading.

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extrinsic
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Controversial topics enhanced Vidal's writing debut and acclaim. Like many other "experimental" writers of the Postmodern aesthetic -- questions of and challenges to presupposed notions of propriety, moral human condition propriety -- Vidal emphasized Realism's empirical features at the expense of intangible aesthetic features, like a completed action's essentialness for reading satisfaction and attendant effectual persuasion.

Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" vignette (slice of life portrait, still life, static action) Postmodernly comments on the writer-reader-audience conversation and reader-audience expectations, a lark at audience expense. Likewise, Vidal misses vital content, organization, and appeal features in his earlier works. Though both writers enjoyed acclaim and attendant fame within a high-brow niche.

I would say Vidal didn't slum outside his art so much as Postmodernly experimented with categorical crossover narratives, metafiction, like Ishiguro. Limited appeal in any case to low brow niches for the crossover trespasses into what "should be" sacred and pure. Neither high nor low brow assertions of what constitutes "art" to exclude or include others matters, not to me, nor to no-brow niches generally; only the subjective, supportable objective positions of personal sentiments cooperatively shared matters.

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Robert Nowall
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Aside: another book by Gore Vidal from the Edgar Box era, called "Thieves Fall Out," and published under the name "Cameron Kaye," has just been republished. Is it any good? Who knows? Nobody's read it in about sixty years...
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