Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day, The Unconsoled), is one of the most acclaimed novelists in the English language. His newest novel, The Buried Giant, is already generating intense interest — and debate — among fantasy fans. Witness two very different reactions… the first, from Neil Gaiman, writing in The New York Times:
This is a novel about an elderly couple going from one village to the next, set in a semi-historical England of the sixth or perhaps seventh century… Saxons and Britons live side by side in a post-Arthurian twilight, in a mythical time of ogres, sprites and dragons — most of all the dragon Querig, who dominates the second half of the book…
The narrative tone is dreamlike and measured. There are adventures, sword fights, betrayals, armies, cunning stratagems and monsters killed, but these things are told distantly, without the book’s pulse ever beating faster… Enemies are slain, but the deaths are never triumphant. A culmination of a planned trap for a troop of soldiers, worthy of a whodunit, is described in retrospect, once we already know what must have happened… this is, at its heart, a book about two people who are now past all adventure.
Gaiman’s review of the novel is largely positive, although he admits his “inability to fall in love with it.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, in contrast, has harshly criticized the book — and especially the author’s clear disdain for fantasy.
Le Guin quotes from a recent interview with Ishiguro on her blog:
Mr Ishiguro said to the interviewer, “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”
Well, yes, they probably will. Why not?
It appears that the author takes the word for an insult.
To me that is so insulting, it reflects such thoughtless prejudice, that I had to write this piece in response…
‘Surface elements,’ by which I take it he means ogres, dragons, Arthurian knights, mysterious boatmen, etc., which occur in certain works of great literary merit such as Beowulf, the Morte d’Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings, are also much imitated in contemporary commercial hackwork. Their presence or absence is not what constitutes a fantasy. Literary fantasy is the result of a vivid, powerful, coherent imagination drawing plausible impossibilities together into a vivid, powerful and coherent story, such as those mentioned, or The Odyssey, or Alice in Wonderland…
I respect what I think he was trying to do, but for me it didn’t work. It couldn’t work. No writer can successfully use the ‘surface elements’ of a literary genre — far less its profound capacities — for a serious purpose, while despising it to the point of fearing identification with it. I found reading the book painful. It was like watching a man falling from a high wire while he shouts to the audience, “Are they going say I’m a tight-rope walker?”
Read her complete response here.
And see our complete survey of the best new books in March here.