Buried Giant: General thoughts


Hope everyone in North America had a pleasant Labour Day weekend, and a pleasant 1st weekend in September to everyone. This discussion topic is for whatever responses people had to the book in general.

The Grandson : A book?
Grandpa : That's right. When I was your age, television was called books. And this is a special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today I'm gonna read it to you.
The Grandson : Has it got any sports in it?
Grandpa : Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...
The Grandson : Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try to stay awake.
Grandpa : Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

I really enjoyed reading this. I thought it had pretty much everything for OSR: a dungeon crawl, a hex crawl, contradictory quests, battles, monsters, heroes, villains, magic, true love, ... But at the same time it isn't much like any other Arthurian or high fantasy book I've read. There were several vignettes that I thought would make good adventures, but I had a hard time imagining them turning out in play the way they turned out in the book. And the voice and tenor of the book was something something something something. Really liked it.

And it touched on themes e.g. death due to old age, grief and yearning for a past that is poorly remembered, that I have a hard time imagining working in play. I saw some similarities to the seriousness of themes in Cloud Atlas, but Mitchell's book seemed much more in genre, and so (for me) not as touching, though a couple of the stories in Cloud Atlas were amazing.

Another point where I saw similarities and differences with Cloud Atlas was the variety of narrative voices covering the same story. The unreliable narrators here though don't seem the same as unreliable narrators in other books, though I'm not sure why.

Anyway look forward to hearing what other folks thought of the book as a whole, and especially any comparisons with other books we've read, either with the club or elsewhere.


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    I have to admit to being disappointed and frustrated with Buried Giant :) I had read it a few years ago and was rather hoping that I would like it more on a reread, but sadly not.

    I'm not yet sure which of your discussion starters is most suitable to comment, but in brief I felt that (like a number of other modern novels by highly successful prize-winning authors) it tried to usurp a category - genre if you like - to which it did not belong. So although it was dressed up as a dark ages piece of historical fiction, I don't believe that Ishiguro had any real interest in writing about the particular period he had chosen. He explores some potentially fascinating themes about memory and forgetting (deliberate or simply because of the ravages of time) but it seemed to me that the whole Saxon/Briton and King Arthur stuff was kind of irrelevant to that - he borrows a few bits here and there and ignores the bits that are not pertinent.

    Now, to some extent this can be perfectly valid - for example in Never Let Me Go he does something a bit similar with cloning, but he does not explore (and I suspect is not interested in) any possible reality of cloning technology - it is simply a backdrop for his writing, and (IMHO) in that case a very successful one.

    For me, the attempt in Buried Giant just did not work - I could not believe in the places and times being presented to me. Maybe it's because Never Let Me Go is explicitly not set in our own world, but a kind of near-parallel one where different technologies etc have emerged. But Buried Giant is ostensibly set in a particular period of British and English history, and I didn't believe it.

    All that is not to say that there weren't some great ideas being explored, or that the turns of phrase in his writing weren't, at times, very striking - it's more of a global response to the book than a comment on individual passages.

    I'll see if I can articulate more of this in some of the other starters.

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    I think this book should be read as "allegory" rather than "story". It's not a retelling of events that happened (or could have happened). It's a collection of vignettes that point to a theme of memory and forgetting.

    Once I realised that, I enjoyed the book a lot more.

    The characters aren't meant to be people, they're symbols that illustrate the themes. The events aren't meant to be actual events, but occurrences that allow us to explore those symbols.

    But in that case, why set it in the post-Arthur dark ages? I'm not too sure what that symbol represents, other than it's a time that all of us have forgotten.

    Given that understanding, I think this book has just about nothing to connect it to an OSR game. As I understand it, OSR gaming is mostly about the surface trappings of the genre, the weird events (hence the emphasis on *-crawls powered by random tables). I don't know how the OSR style would work in the carefully-crafted structure of this book.

    What books does this remind me of? Yes, Cloud Atlas is one. A friend also lent me Lust (by Jelinek) and Baltasar and Blimunda (by Saramago), both more literary novels. Both of those share the sense that they're works to explore a theme rather than to retell a series of events.

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    How interesting that you both thought of Cloud Atlas as that hadn't occurred to me at all! I see what you mean about both books dealing with themes, but it seemed to me that Cloud Atlas had a very strong metastory to do with the progressive and seemingly unavoidable decline of society, with the well-intentioned motives of the various protagonists unable to do anything to stem this. And the settings were either real or credible near-future ones rather than invented.

    I hadn't come across the term OSR before but just spent some happy moments looking it up online :)

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    I rather enjoyed it. I liked it more in the beginning, and thought it was very well drawn as we entered the Saxon village and met Wistan and the boy. The whole story of Wistan rescuing the boy from the troll (or was it ogre?) was quite good. I was really digging the atmosphere.

    After meeting Gawain, though, I think things started to wobble on the rails rather more. Who all the characters were, and what their motivations and goals were, started to get confusing. And I really wanted an answer to this forgetfulness, which was rather long in coming. By the time this all cleared up and I started to feel like I understood the narrative again, that magical atmosphere from the first quarter of the book had been lost, and it never quite came back.

    The first part, though - I thought 'This is very like a Mythic Britain adventure - quite exciting.'

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    Like most current literature, it felt like it was written to address and play with themes and devices to explore those themes. The story was incidental and more a framework for hanging the themes and techniques for display that an actual story. It was all "Hey! Look at me! I am a clever writer! Look! I am using iron age Britons and Saxons as a medium to display my very post-modern sensibilities. Notice how dark it all is? Notice the inevitable depression into hate and squalor and loneliness cruelty and how helpless anyone is to do anything about it? Isn't my work clever and admirable?"

    Pfft! I will avoid this author.

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