I've been a huge Kazuo Ishiguro fan ever since I was assigned Never Let Me Go for one of my English courses at Michigan. I had to hold myself back from finishing the book way ahead of schedule, since I didn't want to inadvertently drop spoilers during group discussions. A few years later, when my favorite independent bookstore, Literati, opened in downtown Ann Arbor, I took the opportunity to grab The Remains of the Day, which was equally captivating. (Bonus - I didn't have to pace myself with that one! I think I was done in two or three days.) So, when The Buried Giant dropped in March 2015, it must've been an easy decision on my husband's part to grab that for my early April birthday. He even managed to snag me a signed copy, because he is awesome. (Again, from Literati. I'm telling you, that store is fantastic.)
For a whole host of reasons, I didn't have a chance to get to the book immediately. According to Goodreads, which is serving as my memory source/baby brain savior at the moment, I finally got around to reading it in July. Now, I'm not sure if this was the fault of pregnancy hormones, or if I would feel this way regardless, but I thought this entire book was laced with an acute sense of sadness. In a nutshell, whole villages are losing their individual and collective memories. Their long histories, spanning countless generations, are rapidly fading into fog. The main couple, an elderly man and woman, can't remember if they have children or not. Eventually, they manage to dredge up images of a son from their past, so they set out to visit his village. Along the way, they are faced with the realization that they have no idea what they've encountered as a couple: have they been happy? Have they fought? Are they good people? Do they trust that their partner is a good person? The questions are unanswerable, for the most part, but each person is equally certain that they love their partner very much and will walk beside them as far as the road will take them with hardly a second thought.
It becomes clear early on that the afterlife is reached by crossing the sea to a particular island. Certain couples, who can prove their exceptional love for one another, get to cross together and walk the island in each other's company. Everyone else gets taken across by the boatman individually and will roam the island alone - sometimes they'll be able to catch traces of other inhabitants, but they will never meet and live with another soul. I know there are countless representations and interpretations of the afterlife throughout the entirety of human history, but in my opinion, this is one of the most tragic versions ever contrived. I can't think of a prospect more terrifying than living out the short life granted to each person here on earth and then spending eternity aware but alone - to spend my life cultivating loving relationships and then have them all fade into nothing as I cross the sea with a boatman.
I won't spoil the ending by giving away the couple's fate, because I do hope that people will choose to read this on their own. Let's just say they complete their journey and confront their dragons, and they even get some help along the way. But the story encompassed much more than the couple, and it weighed heavily on my mind for several days after I finished it. I wouldn't recommend this book to someone who's already feeling blue about something, because I don't think it would help. But for anyone who's in the right place and willing to confront very personal fears about mortality and love, this book is definitely a beautiful entrance to that meditation. If there's one conclusion I can draw from the three Ishiguro books I've read so far, it's that the man doesn't know how to pen a forgettable novel.