I decided long before I opened the first page of Ishiguro’s latest, that I would not be reviewing it. The blogosphere will be awash with reviews I decided. Instead would tweet my reactions and then consolidate the tweets to tell the story. Let us begin ….
And there you have it. An experiment that didn’t work too well, because after a first chapter of much promise, I didn’t want my next tweet to be “Oh dear. It’s gone off the boil.”
And the temperature never rose again. I had intended to devour the book in two sittings in time for Ishiguro’s Edinburgh event, but couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm. I made it to page 148, by which time Ishiguro’s job was to persuade me to finish…
The blogosphere has been awash with details of Ishiguro’s very comprehensive book tour and insights into the book. So I’ll just mention a few points I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere.
1) This was an Edinburgh Book Festival event. The EIBF in March? Yes, indeed. Increased funding from a variety of sources means that there will be events throughout the year, not just during August. This can only be a good thing.
2) The event was held in the Lyceum – my favourite theatre – though not ideal for audience questions when the audience was seated on 3 levels and there were ongoing issues with microphones.
3) Who knew that Ishiguro spent his gap year working as a grouse beater at Balmoral? There is no better way to see the moors, he said. You’re off the tracks and must not break formation. If you meet a bush, you must go through it. if you meet a bog, you must wade through it. (Hence, the splendid evocations of Dark Age British landscapes, I suppose.)
4) On the somewhat cool reactions to The Buried Giant: I’m doing something different. Critical reaction has always been the same, whenever I change direction. Critics didn’t like me not being a Japanese writer when I published the quinessentially English The Remains of the Day.
5) I never for one moment anticipated the furore about the fantastical elements in The Buried Giant. When I’m writing, I’m so immersed in driving forward the plot (his actual word was desperate), that I’ll grab onto any device that helps me do that.
(Editor’s note: This is not convincing me to read further. I’m not a fan of the ageing Sir Gawain and the geriatric dragon …)
6) Audience question: Is Edwin a terrorist in training? Answer: I wouldn’t say that but he is about to be radicalised.
(Editor’s note: Now we’re getting somewhere …)
And indeed we were. Ishiguro explained that the neutral non-realistic dark age setting allowed him to explore the theme of genocide without the story getting hung up on historical particulars. This is a land where things best forgotten remain that way. Both in the collective consciousness and in the more intimate memory of a long marriage.
This was the point that persuaded me to read on and complete the novel. Yes, I can see the advantages of the defamiliarisation and the threats that appear when difficult memories begin to emerge from the mists, but I do wish the details weren’t so opaque. Everything is symbolic or should that be allegorical? In which case what’s the purpose behind confiscating Axl and Beatrice’s candle in chapter 1? Or the meaning of the mysterious boat ride in the final chapter? As you can see, I had problems from beginning to end. Guaranteed not to appear on my best of 2015 list.