Friday, July 15, 2016

Book 51: Crying? Who's crying? There's just a lot of dust around is all and I have allergies. That's it. Nobody's crying. Let's arm-wrestle!

There is a part in The Buried Giant where I actually got so sad that I needed to go do something to cheer myself up. (I went to the used bookstore and bought some books with the boys). There are several parts, actually, where the moment is so sad that it's best to just pause a bit and let it soak in. There are parts, too, where the mysterious and magical nature of the book becomes enchanting, but those are few and far between, and they are between the parts that are dark, haunting, sometimes a bit frightening.

It is a great book.

I read Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, a book about clones raised as organ donors, and while the two books are completely dissimiliar in their stories and settings, the feel of them is almost the same. Ishiguro writes haunting books that tease you with what is really going on. They feel almost like dreams, where you can never be sure whether what you think is happening is, in fact, happening. They are books that carry you away.

In The Buried Giant, an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice, set out on a journey to see their son. The book is set in a Great Britain that has magic and strange creatures in it, but it feels real: while there are ogres and dragons and Merlin is mentioned, the way Ishiguro relates them makes the magic feel less fantasy than workaday facts.

Axl and Beatrice (as well as everyone around them) are troubled by 'mist,' which is their word for the way people's memories come and go; most of the time, nobody can remember much of what has happened that day, or the day before, and they are likely to forget their mission as they undertake it, even. The couple have remembered that for some time now they have meant to go visit their son in his village, and they decide they must finally set out -- although they are not entirely sure where the village lies.

Along the way, they pick up as traveling companions a Saxon warrior named Wistan and a boy with an ogre bite, Edwin. Wistan is on a mysterious mission on behalf of his king, but travels with Axl and Edwin for a period of time. The group then runs into Sir Gawain, who has been tasked with hunting down and killing a dragon, Querig, whose breath is said to be the cause of the 'mist.'

The trip lasts only a few days, but there are terribly dark and wonderful scenes in that time, from the scary night at the Saxon village to the strange monastery they visit to Axl and Beatrice's brief journey in baskets on a river. The people they meet include strange women in rags, mysterious boatmen who are tasked with determining which couples spend eternity together, a woman dragged from town to town by a group of men, and more.

Through it all, the group's members struggle with their memories, at times remembering things they wished they had not and they wrestle with whether Querig ought to be killed at all, given that if the mist recedes they will remember unhappy times as well as happy times.

The Buried Giant is a quiet sort of fantasy; the action is not over-the-top, and it is a more thoughtful work than many sword-and-sorcery books are -- but no less interesting for that. I was hanging on every word, and when I wasn't listening to it (this was an audiobook) I was many times thinking about what was going on in it, trying to piece together the mystery behind the trip, and Axl's past, as well as Wistan's and Gawain's secrets.

And, like I said, there are moments in the book that are so sad, they almost made me cry; when I told Sweetie one of them, she almost cried too, and she hadn't read the book. It's rare that a book will move me like that, but it's almost impossible not to feel that way when Ishiguro gets to those parts. Axl is one of my favorite characters ever in any book, already, and I only just finished this book this afternoon.

Reading the book is similar to Axl and Beatrice's trip: difficult at times, heading towards an uncertain goal with constantly changing motivations.  How Axl and Beatrice's trip ends is one of those moments that ought not to be spoiled; it is a phenomenal ending, the one the book deserved. If you can read the ending and not feel that way, well then I feel sorry for you because you are made of stone.


Andrew Leon said...

Well, I didn't see you cry, so how would I know if it's even true?

I'll put it on my list, but that doesn't mean I'll ever get to it.

Liz A. said...

Books do make me cry. Even not good books. But I'm so down at the moment that I don't think reading this book right now would be a good idea.