ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Kazuo Ishiguro is such a celebrated writer that his new book that's been barely out for two days is already being eyed by Hollywood. There are reports that producer Scott Rudin has acquired the rights to "The Buried Giant." Reviewer Meg Wolitzer may question that enthusiasm. Her expectations were - to say the least - high.
MEG WOLITZER, BYLINE: For months I'd been anticipating, fantasizing. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favorite writers. So I jumped into this medieval journey, wandering through its bleak landscape, its stretches of flatness and moments of beauty, its hints of allegory. "The Buried Giant" takes place in England right after the time of King Arthur. It's about an old couple named Axl and Beatrice who set out to visit their son in another village, but the trip is tough right from the beginning. The whole region is covered in a mist that gives people a kind of amnesia. And there's a female dragon named Querig lurking in the story, adding to the atmosphere of menace and destruction. At one point on their quest, Axl realized that the dark patches beneath their feet, and elsewhere all over the room and floor, were old bloodstains, and that mingled with the smell of ivy and damp mouldering stone was another faint but lingering one of old slaughter.
There are moments like that of strong writing, but, for the most part, the book comes shrouded in its own mist. Within pages, I'd only half-remember what I'd read. I can't believe Ishiguro meant for that to happen. And his intentions become even more obscured as the quest continues. Axl tries to remember his early life as a soldier, whether or not he'd fought alongside King Arthur, and exactly what role Arthur had played in the country's history. He and Beatrice also try to remember the beginning of their relationship. Can they still be in love if they can't recall their shared memories? Actually, memory and truth are important themes in Ishiguro's other books, too. Characters forget, distort or simply don't know essential information. But the trick of a novel is that even in conveying vagueness it needs to be sharp and specific. Even in describing what's slipped away, the writing needs to be present. Too often in this book Ishiguro's interesting ideas frustratingly fade away half-formed. He's a brilliant writer with distinct and compelling preoccupations, which have worked for him in the past. But if there's a powerful, classic, mythic novel buried here, I couldn't quite find it.
SIEGEL: The book is "The Buried Giant" by Kazuo Ishiguro. Our reviewer is Meg Wolitzer.
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