After reading two chapters of this book, this is my first impression.
In interviews, Kazuo has repeatedly said that he doesn’t consider his first novel in ten years to be a ‘fantasy’ book. And yet elsewhere, it has been advertised as one.
I can see where the confusion lies.
‘The Buried Giant’ is set in a Britain still reeling from the end of four hundred years of Roman rule. It is a mysterious landscape, covered in mist, full of enigmatic characters and haunted by ogres. From this description, it does begin to sound like a fantasy novel.
However, the difference is in the writing. For Kazuo, the setting is secondary – a device for getting the main theme across, which is (so far as I can tell, this is only a first impressions review after all ) the idea of memory, loss, and confusion. The setting works for the theme: a story about forgetfulness, set in the least-understood period of British history? Yes!
I won’t be revealing anything about the plot here, because I don’t want to spoil it for you – but Kazuo does an excellent job of slowly revealing to you that everything in this world is not what it seems. Mist is a prevalent motif in this book, and for good reason: to me, it feels as though the prose itself is shrouded in mystery. As we realise that the protagonist’s memory is faulty, so we begin to realise that nearly everything he tells us may not be true. Events change upon retelling, locations change shape – inconsistencies abound. Much like the protagonist, all we can do is cling on to the present moment, and hope that by the end everything will be revealed.
There are plenty of metaphors in this story so far – about memory loss, isolation, death, and the unreliability of thoughts. It is as the world might have looked before the incredibly information-packed time we live in. In a time where most people couldn’t read or write, and history depended upon stories told around campfires – who was there to tell people that giants didn’t exist, or that the Romans didn’t live hundreds of years ago – they lived just decades ago?
I’m really looking forward to seeing where this story goes. And, of course, this is just one person’s reading of this book – someone else’s will inevitably be different.
But the fact remains that this story is too full of metaphors, motifs and uncertainties to be considered a traditional fantasy novel. In my opinion, it is a merge of two genres: Kazuo has taken some of the tropes of fantasy and weaved them into a spectacular ‘literary’ novel.