The Buried Giant is, at heart, a love story with a fantasy backdrop. While the novel takes a lot of inspiration from Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, common fantasy conventions are rarely used.

The Buried Giant focuses on a couple, Axl and Beatrice, who go in search of their son after a strange mist causes everyone to be unable to remember the past. Set around sixth or seventh century Britain, and after a war between the Saxons and Britons, the mist causes the Britons and Saxons to live peacefully as they have forgotten the war. However, unknown to them, the mist is caused by a spell Merlin has cast on a dragon, using its breath to cloud everyone’s memories.

Along their journey to find their son, Axl and Beatrice come across a ferryman who is tasked with taking couples to an island, however he only takes them together if they can prove their love for one another; if they cannot, they are separated forever. From here on, Axl and Beatrice are filled with worry that they will fail the test and get separated.

Their fear of failing the test coincides with them wanting to remember their past once more, but they question themselves throughout the novel: if they remember the past, will it damage their relationship, or will it prove their love for one another?

They experience the former when, at the end of the novel the dragon is slain by a strong, powerful knight. The return of lost memories proves to be a bitter experience. The peace between the Saxons and Britons comes to an end; however, as they are both elderly, Axl and Beatrice will never see the future.

After testing their love for one another, the ferryman only takes Beatrice to the island, leaving Axl behind forever.

The Buried Giant plays with the themes of love, loss, war and most importantly, memory. The novel’s ambiguous ending leaves it open to interpretation: has the couple’s relationship been damaged by memories of the past or is Beatrice ‘moving on’ into the afterlife and the ferryman is nothing more than a metaphor for death?

This seems to be what Ishiguro is hinting at with the ending of the novel. However, Ishiguro lets you decide at the end and, like older books, he doesn’t answer all the questions. This could be a problem for some readers but for others, this could be liberating.

The novel does trudge on for a little too long and suffers from some inconsistent writing, mostly in the repetitive dialogue. The Buried Giant is nonetheless an extremely close study of a couple struggling with their age, coming to terms with death and, along the way, their desire to rekindle their ‘lost’ relationship through their son.

Fabio Crispim

A freelance writer for several publications who is currently writing his first dystopian sci-fi novel, Evolved, which he hopes to publish in the future. His website is https://fabiocrispim.com/