Oof. Guys. Oof. Not good.
I always feel bad when book club all hates a book, because I voted for it. But I will admit that it makes a good meeting (does anyone remember the fabulous sangria festival of rage that was The Children's Hospital?), and sometimes, when it's unclear what's actually happening on the page, it's helpful to have a group of like-minded interpreters around to sort out who went where and what that part meant.
So this month, Work Book Club discussed The Buried Giant. The one thing I'll say that makes me feel better is that we were all interested in reading it; I can't be blamed alone for pushing it on the group. Though, god help me, I would have if it had come to that; I generally really like Kazuo Ishiguro, and this one has been on my to-read for ages. Never Let Me Go is a great book. The Remains of the Day is hypnotic and sad. I even liked A Pale View of Hills, though it was a little confusing.
And yes, there was a lot of confusion about what actually happened, and even more about what it meant, but I think the really big theme here was Really Cool Ideas That Went Nowhere. Or maybe Themes the Book Presents but Fails to Explore. Either way, I don't really have discussion questions about the book so much as discussions that I wish the book had fostered. So let's talk about those.
1. Ground-up worldbuilding is tricky with unreliable narrators. It takes delicate work, which is decently done here, I think. When you're trying to establish whether this is a world where there really are dragons, giants, and ogres, or if it's just a world where people vehemently believe in those things, you're going to be hampered by the fact that the main plot point is vague memory problems in most characters. I'll give him props for this; I was never really confused about what kind of world I was in (though I was confused about some (many) of the details).
2. What does it mean to have an intimate romantic relationship with someone if neither of you have any long-term memories? You have your day to day life, and your emotions, but without memories of core experiences, where does the deep bond come from? Is it about clinging more tightly to what's right in front of you? Is it about falling in love with this person every day? Are you even the same person they fell in love with when you don't have your memory? I mean, we find out later that Axl was a great warrior. That's who Beatrice married; how does that relationship compare to these two people with no memories of these characters?
3. I think we can globally get behind the notion that stealing someone's memories is bad guy behavior. How deluded is it to think you're doing it for a good reason? Like, is this the road to hell that's paved with good intentions? Or is it just flat out selfish, a way to keep your boot on the neck of someone you've beaten?
4. The argument between the warrior and the monk about the value of penance is fascinating to me. If the monks' penance can bring forgiveness to the entire kingdom, then wrongs will continue to be done and cancelled out in a neverending cycle. But if you switch over to Wistan's punishment/vengeance model, where even old wrongs have to be paid for as a debt, do you inevitably end up in a cycle of hatred and revenge? What keeps a man from doing evil if he can buy his way out of punishment with a novena? But what actual good does revenge do?
4b. WTH, Arthur? Did he really do that? Because that's a real jerk move.
5. Why, god, why does everyone say the name of the person they're talking to in EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE???
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I have so many questions that I can't phrase in any way except "what's with that?" What's with the woman in the boat on the river, and the pixies? What's with the evil birds? What's with the giant's mound at the beginning of the story? What's with that last paragraph? What's with Edwin in general? What's with any of this book?
If someone can explain it to me--explain what it reveals, instead of what it obscures--I would be grateful, but I don't think that's a thing this book does. I think this is a book that's more like When We Were Orphans, which was the Ishiguro book that I struggled with the most. Because that was a book that was full of things that just didn't make sense, even knowing that the narrator is unreliable and in deep denial and spinning everything and maybe even a little crazy. This one is a thousand times more bewildering.
I strongly recommend that you go out and read Never Let Me Go. And that's all I have to say about that.