Monday, March 9, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Buried Giant

The Buried Giant (2015)
Written by Kazuo Ishiguro
Narrated by David Horovitch
Run Time: 11 hours and 48 minutes
Publisher: Random House Audio/Knopf

I had never read an Ishiguro book prior to his newest tale, one set in a Britain of mottled greens and greys as well as giants, ogres, dragons and other fantasy folk. Would it match up to the hype? Sort of.

The book follows an elderly couple named Beatrice and Axl who seek to reunite with their long-lost son. Along the way, they meet Arthurian knight Sir Gawain, a boatman and an assortment of other characters. They want to end a supernatural mist that causes the area's inhabitants to forget their past.

The book weaves in allegory akin to The Chronicles of Narnia, the quest from Beowulf and a malevolent dragon from the likes of The Hobbit. Some of the allegorical motifs really worked. The novels themes of memory, both collective and personal, were intriguing, especially when transposed with our digital era of instant gratification and forgetting history. Other issues like ethnic conflict also factor into the narrative. While the titular giant is mentioned briefly at about a quarter or so in, I thought the title was reflective of uncovering memory.

The narrator's prose, when read by Horovitch, reminded me of what I imagined the professor in Narnia or a conversation between Gandalf and Bilbo sounding like. The sound is of a scholarly English gentleman and it really shows, particularly in conversations between Axl and Sir Gawain. At first, the novel had a great start, but then it started to really slow for me as the story shifted away from Beatrice and Axl. I just didn't find the other characters to be as likable. There were lengthy conversations that seemed to be circular and repetitive and there were several times when I felt like I had a case of audio deja vu. During these moments, I often wondered what the other characters were doing and had to really focus to get back into the story. It picked up again in the end, but that was mostly due to a shift of focus back to Axl and Beatrice.

There has been heated debate online as to whether or not this novel is a fantasy book. I would classify it as part of the genre in part because it has characters that would be at home in a fantasy novel and an archetypal quest. Having said that, if you're expecting grand battles a la The Lord of the Rings or similar books in the genre, this book is not that kind of page-turner.

Grade: 3/5 stars. Fantasy books like Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were books that established my love of reading. In some aspects, Ishiguro did them proud, namely the use of allegory, conversation style and setting. However, the middle portion of the book heavily sagged for me. While the audio narration by Horovitch is very good, I would urge readers to read the print or ebook editions, since it is a book that works best with complete undivided attention.

For a primer on the book from Ishiguro himself, click here.

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood power producer Scott Rudin, who has a long track record of purchasing the rights to books, purchased the film rights a day after the book's publication. However, I genuinely don't see this book lending itself to film well.

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