The Buried Giant, Last Post, #3


This post discusses parts III and IV to the end of the book. If you have not read it all yet, you may want to wait, or you’ll encounter spoilers. If you’ve finished the book, you may probably want to discuss and unload your thoughts with others. That’s what I’ve felt twice! The very reason why I wanted to have a book club on his books. They always leave me with an urge to talk about them.

First on the picture. I had fun coming up with this image that is a blend of two of my own pictures:

It’s not that it has to do anything in particular with the book, but it vaguely reminds me of some of the feelings in the book, one of sluggishness, or better described as heaviness, inability to move, -when Axl and Beatrice are trying to cross that first river. The lonely bird reminds me also vaguely of the end, Axl alone, we don’t know if ready to fly to meet Beatrice, or to go his own way. The bigger caterpillar on top of the bird, I can make it ‘be’ that giant looming over our heads without us even noticing. But this was not premeditated, I just played with the two pictures, liked the effect, and looking at the result, thought of those things I just wrote about.

As you all know, these three posts were written before any was published, so I’m blind to how the discussion is going. For this book club, I chose to narrate the content of the sections, and to interject my thoughts in every post, apart from other thoughts I’d be sharing in the comments. I was surprised to see how, despite having read the book once, and listened to it this summer, whenever I came here to write about each section, I had to give the chapters another overlook to remember what exactly happened.

I believe ambiguity and that foggy feel is a constant in Ishiguro’s books. This makes his books fun even when you read them many times, since every time you seem to perceive something else, and also different readers find different elements, and make a variety of connections.

Let’s get to Parts III and IV, which are the last two parts of the book. There’s two titles in what’s left of the book, they are Gawain’s First Reverie, and Gawain’s Second Reverie. At this point in the book, I felt confused. Who are Gawain, Axl, and Wistan?, and who is Edwin? The first time around, I had high hopes that all the threads opened in the book, all my questions, would be neatly answered in a classic ending. I should have remembered that’s not Ishiguro. I’m not going to pretend to know what he wants to achieve better than him (how stupid of me that’d be), I’m just speaking from my reader’s point of view, I can talk about what he does to me. He leaves me with questions, my mind is constantly going to scenes in the book, and trying to find an overarching explanation that makes sense in my head. As I go back to the book and read again parts of it in order to narrate for us to situate ourselves in the discussion, I find never ending nuances, details, allusions, everything which sends my mind to spin on those a bit more, ha ha ha.

Gawain. We get to know him a bit more here, and about Querig, and Arthur himself.

I’m back to this post after a few difficult weeks. My parents and siblings live in Madrid, and I live in Texas. This past end of May, my mom went to have a procedure for a malign colon tumor, and she had complications. She almost doesn’t make it. She had two other surgeries, one to place bags to do the work of the colon, another was a tracheotomy, since she was connected to a respirator for long, and they had to do this as a transition to her breathing on her own. At this point in time, she’s slowly recovering, not completely out of danger, but they are all working on getting her out of the ICU. In short, I’m typing this June 21st, and I’ll go to see her July 9th, and stay for two weeks.

I hope to still be able to check these book club posts, and comment this wonderful book with you.

Back to the book, I’ll just make some remarks on the last happenings, less detailed than usual, but I still want to discuss the ending with you. Gawain and Wistan fight in a memorable scene very Japanese in a sense. Honor and formality matter more than unrestrained violence and slaughter. Wistan respects an aged Gawain, who, after all, never meant to kill Querig, but to defend her. After, when Wistan goes to kill the giant, we all realize she’s not that fiery threat anymore. The irony would be that to bury the dead giant, is to resurrect the war. Erwin, the boy, is realizing he’s here to become a soldier (maybe like Axl was in his days), and to avenge his family. Conflicts arouse with the fall of Querig and Gawain. Arthur was confronted with an impossible decision, how to end the Saxon-Briton war. He does something that puts a halt to the conflict, at a cost, -people forget not just about the conflict, but also about their life-. When we forget, there’s no recollection of pain or hatred, but gone is the love and happy times. One may even welcome that pain, if that means to have the rest, as Beatrice remarked to her husband in the previous pages.

At a quicker than the rest of the book’s pace, we are made known about many truths. Not only Axl, but Beatrice was unfaithful to her husband. Their son is not alive, he left dishonored, and his parents never went after him. He started a new life, and he died without them seeing him or telling him they loved him. This is a difficult topic for me at the moment. I’ve told my mom I love her, but having almost died, and being unable to talk for almost a month, I’m nervous about going to see her and being able to tell her that I love her at least one more time, and not only, but showing her my love by taking care of her for a few days.

This book also had me thinking about what memories are, the individual ones, and those of a generation, of a nation, the collective ones. Ishiguro always makes me think about the memories of those on the bad side, (the oppressor’s side.) There’s losers on both sides. Those who align themselves with the oppressors, many times had no choice but to follow until they see what’s that they are really following. What’s something patriotic in the beginning, can quickly turn into something morally wrong and evil. Conflicts leave scars and traumas that can’t be healed easily.

Axl and Beatrice go back to meet the boatman. They want to cross that river, (which means dying, maybe?), and they want to do that together. That can only be achieved if they love each other and are able to answer the boatman questions with identical responses. I never understand very well what happens, and I’ve come to believe there’s not crystal clear answers to Ishiguro’s endings. They are left undefined, not unfinished. They are not concluded in a more typical way, as in books that have a more defined plot, development, and conclusion. He uses the plot to hover above certain topics, he explores themes, and he gives us possibilities. We know this much, Beatrice crosses the river. We still don’t know the true nature of the boatman, (is he helping them, or separating them.) And Axl, did he deliberately not go with Beatrice?, or is he left there waiting, like the woman in the first part of the book, who could not go with her husband? I even thought that woman was Beatrice on a different time, a time when her husband was on the other side and she was the one left behind.

No matter their separation, they seemed more together in the end than ever. Their journey proved to have been different than the one they envisioned. Yet they learned about each other and about their life together, and they know they loved each other in the past, and love each other in the present.

I hope some of you comment and make remarks on the parts I’ve not covered well.

12 thoughts on “The Buried Giant, Last Post, #3

  1. This is such a thoughtful, provocative book, and you’ve given us such a thoughtful and personal commentary, Silvia, thank you.

    I remember having lots of reactions to ‘The Buried Giant’ — some conflicting, others coalescing — that I hoped that a bit of distance and time between reading it and considering your commentary would help. I find it did not. I am still in two minds about it. It is deep, yet we skate awkwardly over its narrative surface. It is cunningly plotted but has the breaks in continuity of a rapidly fading dream. It is about judging what is right and what is wrong, and yet we don’t know where we stand at the end.

    My first conclusions were that it was about aging and the uncertainty and worries and may attend it; and it was also about the futility of war and conflict and that no one has a monopoly on morality.

    And then I thought, it may not be ‘about’ anything at all, just the author playing around with ideas.

    At the back of my mind I also had all these classical models of odysseys undertaken — by Bunyan’s Christian, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, by Sir Galahad or Sir Perceval questing for the holy grail for example. Men, for the most part, searching (sometimes fruitlessly) for a purpose and a meaning in life.

    Do Axl and Beatrice find that purpose and meaningfulness? Or are they just too tired by life’s journey to worry about it? As someone just slightly older than Ishiguro I wonder if he too is becoming aware of his own mortality and what that might imply for his plans and hopes for the future. And now I am repeating myself, a bit like Beatrice asking Axl if he is still there, again and again. Reassurance is what we yearn for. I don’t think Ishiguro intends to offer it to us here.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, you guys! What a wonderful discussion here. Thank you both so much. Both your words are helping to firm up things that I sense and feel about this story but have yet to find words for.

      Chris, like Silvia, your second paragraph really struck me. Yes! Like a “rapidly fading dream” – how appropriate, and what a master of the novel KI is to be able to make us feel so keenly what his characters live with.

      Your last paragraph leaves me with so much to ponder. I am writing those questions in the back of my book and will take some time to think about it.

      Silvia, I am curious to know if you can recall what your expectations were the first time you read the ending. I felt very satisfied, but so melancholy and wistful. I enjoy feeling that kind of an ache at the end of a book, so it hit me just right. It was honest.

      “I’ll add that it was the same for Gawain and Wistan, they fought, but they knew the outcome, it was like fulfilling fate, and their duel comes ‘late’, it’s defeat for both, and for the reader. That goat they take to the she-dragon, is not even atonement, as it happens, it’s poisoned.”

      Yes, there is such a sense of fulfilling fate. The plot gains momentum that propels the characters to their conclusion. It’s absolutely inevitable that Axl and Beatrice end up struggling back up the mountain, – like the river just wouldn’t allow them passage because they had to fulfill this last task and be witness to the end of Querig. And then that they take possession of that goat – they didn’t want to do the errand, but end up with it anyway. And it’s a useless task. I loved what you said about failed atonement. The goat was to be a sacrifice, but it was polluted, and it didn’t even figure in to Querig’s demise. The way all of our characters’ paths meet in these final moments, each of the three groups representing a different desire – wow, it’s magic. I loved the exchange between Gawain and Wistan. Like you said above, it has the ring of Japanese honor and formality to it. It also echoed the earlier scene a bit – the one with the knight from the bridge. In both cases there was a sense of respect and civility as well as inevitability. This sense that neither side holds it against the other, but they’ve each got a job to do and must rid themselves of obstacles. If I remember correctly, the old knight was described something like raising his sword above his head in a move that was all but suicidal and then Wistan so easily cut him down. It’s as though the old knight already knew his fate so he might as well get it over with cleanly.

      So the goat was a failed sacrifice. Was there a sacrifice? Was Gawain the sacrifice? That doesn’t feel exactly right to me. Are all the people of the land the sacrifice? War is now upon them because Merlin’s spell is lifted. Maybe there is no sacrifice here. Maybe it’s just life. I don’t know.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you both for your kind comments, though I felt my remarks were a bit disjointed. I was hampered by different expectations for this novel: a fair few years of reading medieval Arthurian literature, Dark Age history and Celtic mythology led me to make certain assumptions about it which proved either incorrect or wrongly founded. Arthurian tropes — like Sir Gawain — are anachronistic for the post-Roman period; the geography of the novel is impossible to locate; the presence of ogres and dragons sit uncomfortably with an abbey which smacks of the High Middle Ages. This isn’t a historical novel as such. Nor is it fantasy, or romance, or even an allegory (which has to be more obvious in its symbolism).

        The presence of a classical figure, a ferryman similar to Charon, confused me. I wondered if his boat was supposed to be similar to, or the equivalent of, the vessel that was said to have taken the dying Arthur to the Isle of Avalon. This only makes sense if Axl is really Arthur, though he has forgotten who he was, and Beatrice is Guinevere.

        Sorry, more questions, and more imponderables.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’m not as versed as you on medieval Arthurian literature, Dark Age history, or Celtic mythology, Chris, but I sensed some anachronism which I couldn’t peg to anything in particular, -due to my lack of knowledge, either that, or, I thought the same, this is not a historical novel nor a fantasy or romance, lol, or even an allegory. It felt like KI just borrowed or utilized (in an honest original way, of course), all that’s there at his disposition. While the elements may be a mismatch, he infused the whole book with the coherence of his tone, (it would be impossible to impute him with the book sounding ‘modern’, it totally transports you to an undefined yet old era), and isn’t it amazing we all have toyed with the same ideas such as, is Axl really Arthur? I thought the river was lethe, ( though, which relates to the forgetfulness, oblivion.

        I’m reading A Grief Observed, and it’s worth noting that C.S. Lewis says that death, (even if it were to occur to both espouses at once), it’ll still be a separation, something that happens to each of us, alone in the Alone.

        Yes, Katie, the end was perfect.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Also, wasn’t the slaying of the dragon so very anti-climatic? There is no hero here boldly defying the monster, stepping into harms way, near death at every turn. No near mortal injuries.

      Kill Gawain. Cut off a feeble Querig’s head. The end.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Absolutely, I also felt the slaying of the dragon anti-climatic.

        I like this you said, The way all of our characters’ paths meet in these final moments, each of the three groups representing a different desire – wow, it’s magic.

        And I only thought about the goat as a sacrifice, because goats are usually used as atonement, but here, there’s no culmination, everything seems deflated, (the dragon of her strength, the duel of the usual tension and excitement, there’s no specific answers.)

        Before i continue, I must say that yesterday, reading and listening to some commentaries of this book and his A Pale View of Hills, I was very upset to see how many inaccuracies I caught. I’m not saying I, or we may not make mistakes in our recollection of things mentioned in the book, but whenever we are not sure about something, we always say something like “what do you think happened there?, or, was this happening?” I mean that it upset me to hear people talking about all the ambiguity and possibilities of his books as “facts” or things that happened for sure in the book. One lecturer talking of A Pale View of Hills, even seemed to me as someone who had not read the book, and he was giving his audience, -who had not read the book-, incorrect spoilers, talking about a very diffused scene of the book as a matter of fact… DON’T LISTEN or READ anything about A Pale View of Hills before you read it, (and it’s only 188 pages.)

        I’m going on a tangent, and it has NOTHING to do with you, guys, but it is related to your question, Katie, of what were my expectations the first time I read this book. This is no flattery, but my honest observation. I know you, Katie, as a reader. You are a natural for books like this. (I’m talking about the highly poetic books). You are very intuitive. You said it yourself, you don’t impose any conditions, you let the author take you, and you are comfortable in the middle of this unreliability. You are a fantastic reader match for an author like Ishiguro, ha ha ha. I don’t let go so well, or I didn’t the first time around. The more we bring of ourselves, the more we try to superimpose, the worse we are at enjoying this poetic writing of his.

        When I read this book the first time, I was still fixated on more definite answers. This, out of all his books, was the one where that wistfulness and melancholy as you describe it, are more present, so I wanted, at least, a bit more definition, some emotions in the active realm, (for everything in this book is so fateful and it has that resignation flavor I’m experiencing more the older I get but that’s so foreign to my approach to life, -impulsive, restless-.) I wanted the action and vigor of youth, more energy. While you seemed satisfied in the middle of all this, I had to wrestle with the thought that I had read a great book but I still longed for a different one, ha ha ha. I always get ‘mad’ at KI, -grin, I want to bully him into giving me answers or commit to some possible ones, -but that’s just temporary. After some time, I realize that it’s this way of writing that makes me like him so much.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Oh man, both of your latest comments……I just want to sit here for a couple hours and talk about ALL of it. Such great insights!

        I just pulled my sewing machine out to make a dress for my daughter. My sister’s wedding is next weekend, and I promised myself I would get it done before the weekend is over. I’m not a disciplined person, and while I enjoy sewing, I have a hard time setting aside a good conversation. 😊

        Maybe I will make it back here for a break at some point today.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Lol, I know how it goes, dear friend. It was so nice to read this comment. I love knowing what my friends are doing, and reading. Enjoy your Jesse!


  3. Chris, Katie, you are readers after my own heart. I can’t hardly express how you both come to give meaning to my reading. I’m not a solitary reader. I’ve always longed for that need to place my readings in a bigger context. If I can’t talk and discuss life through books with others, I’m nothing.

    Your comment, Chris, has given me more closure on this book than I’ve ever had in the many years since I read it for the first time, and this summer in which I read it again.

    You nailed it,

    It is deep, yet we skate awkwardly over its narrative surface. It is cunningly plotted but has the breaks in continuity of a rapidly fading dream. It is about judging what is right and what is wrong, and yet we don’t know where we stand at the end. THIS IS right what I think about it.

    After my first read, I had a pang of disappointment, (understand though that I wasn’t upset with Ishiguro in the least. After some time, when I see the impact of his books on me, I’m only grateful and an admirer), but I couldn’t help but feeling cheated on my own expectations of what I would take with me from reading the book.

    And then you say this,

    And then I thought, it may not be ‘about’ anything at all, just the author playing around with ideas., and I too felt certain ‘randomness’ twice. The second time it was as watching a replay of a situation, but knowing I won’t find more clarification, no matter how much I could slow the view.

    And your last paragraph. Ishiguro doesn’t offer reassurance, but your comment did assure me it wasn’t just me. It’s a great satisfaction for this reader to know that other thoughtful readers like yourself, come to the same conclusions, and experience the same feelings.

    I’m going to add your last paragraph here,

    Do Axl and Beatrice find that purpose and meaningfulness? Or are they just too tired by life’s journey to worry about it? As someone just slightly older than Ishiguro I wonder if he too is becoming aware of his own mortality and what that might imply for his plans and hopes for the future. And now I am repeating myself, a bit like Beatrice asking Axl if he is still there, again and again. Reassurance is what we yearn for. I don’t think Ishiguro intends to offer it to us here.

    I’ll add that it was the same for Gawain and Wistan, they fought, but they knew the outcome, it was like fulfilling fate, and their duel comes ‘late’, it’s defeat for both, and for the reader. That goat they take to the she-dragon, is not even atonement, as it happens, it’s poisoned, the children involved in that strange place, where they live without any grown ups?, it occurred to me that this book feels like El Bosch Garden of Delights, ha ha ha, it’s so vibrant and full of color, but when you look close, the things portrayed are depressing and hard to take.

    The book points to many places, opens many questions, develops an atmosphere, and I can totally see how it doesn’t please us as readers. I only find rest if I believe Mr. Ishiguro made us privy to his own worries and demons, and did it in an unusual and poetic way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t mean the book doesn’t please us as readers… I meant it can be uncomfortable at times, or displease many readers, (that’s such a vague remark, it goes for all books, right?, ha ha ha), I’m trying to say that this book, above all his other titles I’ve read, requires more than ever that we let go of our expectations, and immerse ourselves in it without demands and in full trust.


  4. As much as I enjoyed this book, I find myself struggling with it, but seemingly for different reasons than what I have seen others mention. Perhaps reading the Gray House has just ruined other books for me, but some aspects ended up feeling too obvious and clear cut if that makes any sense. The book starts out with that dreamy tone that just oozes mystery. What is the ‘mist’? Why are characters forgetful? Is it supernatural or something real like a disease? Perhaps it is just our characters being unreliable narrators?

    Then out of nowhere we get a clear answer and it feels unsatisfying. The mist IS supernatural, but it has a specific cause. A flesh and blood beast that can be slain with a sword. The book after that point just lost something. It was still a good adventure quest, but all the confusion and mystery built up in those early chapters gets sucked away.

    The end then sets about dismantling the sense of moral ambiguity that was left. For most of the book, there is no clear answer about who was in the right between Gawain and Wistan. Both have shades of light and dark and you never knew quite who to root for. Once Wistan decides to kill the dragon, even knowing that it would be dead of old age soon, there is no real room left to debate. Wistan has crossed from noble but mis-informed to just plain wrong at this point. He is dooming two peoples to a renewed cycle of violence and death just to satisfy his personal grudges.

    All that said, the book does manage to redeem itself with that beautiful final chapter. That tone and feeling that were missing come rushing back. It manages to conclude without feeling ‘final’ and gives answers without having to tie everything up in a bow. It almost leaves you wondering what the book would have been like if it had just been about Axl and Beatrice without all the distractions of dragons and knights in-between.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Patrick. Excuse my delay. I do agree with your assessment of the book. After reading The Gray House, books felt inane for a good while. I’m really serious about another book club soon on this amazing book.
      I also think the end redeems the book, but I also felt those unsatisfying moments, as if it could have risen more. Other titles by Ishiguro are much tighter. It’s an issue with expectations and delivery. There’s an anticipation at the beginning, but then Ishiguro starts in his ambiguous an unreliable path, which I adore, but I have to say the first half felt different, and its potential wasn’t fully exploited.
      After a while, books take their place in my value system, and I love having met this couple. But as you say also, had the book been just about B and A, it would have been a great book too. No matter what, I want him to write more.


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