The Buried Giant: a sense of exploration

The other day on Twitter, AggieH was asking (with reference to two writers I haven’t read, and so shan’t name): “How can good writers later write such bad books? Do they become Too Big To Edit?” I wondered out loud if it could be because they lose the fire that drove them to write in the first place – when writing stops being something they have to do, and becomes something they just… do.

I was thinking about this while reading The Buried Giant. I’m sure we’ve all read the latest work by a veteran writer and felt they were treading water, if not going backwards – I know I have. But sometimes you get the sense that a writer is still searching, still questioning. This is what it was like with Ishiguro.

In circumstances like these, the latest book is not necessarily where you want to start – not because it can’t be appreciated, but because you’ll get more from it with a little knowledge. If it’s a writer who doesn’t keep going back to square one, they may now be at square ten or fifteen, and you’ll better understand where they are now if you know something of how they’ve got there.

I didn’t exactly take my own advice with The Buried Giant, because I am by no means a seasoned reader of Ishiguro. But I got the sense that he was taking the latent artifice which I now imagine to be one of his hallmarks, and placing it in a setting and situation that brought it right to the fore. I’ll be thinking about the implications of that in later posts.

Book details (Foyles affiliate link)

The Buried Giant (2015) by Kazuo Ishiguro, Faber & Faber hardback

8 Comments

  1. Interesting ideas, David – I’ve followed Ishiguro for years and many other authors as well. I tend to read the current novel first and if it’s really good take a peek at what’s gone prior (maybe read one or two of them) but certainly continue as he publishes.

    I started the Ishiguro with When We Were Orphans and then went back for The Remains of the Day and An Artist of the Floating World, but not the one prior. I’ve kept up with him since When We Were Orphans.

    I’m not sure what “But I got the sense that he was taking the latent artifice which I now imagine to be one of his hallmarks,…” means. He seems to change directions with every book, but the themes of his novels usually revolve around memory – including The Buried Giant, Remains of the Day, When We Were Orphans, An Artist of the Floating World – not so much Never Let Me Go (that I remember although maybe. Future memories of the world as it is now?

    • That’s interesting, Becky, because these days I’d be more inclined to start with an earlier book, rather than an author’s latest. How do you find that it works out?

      What I mean with the “latent artifice” comment is that, as I said in the earlier post, I’d let myself believe that Ishiguro’s prose and the realities he depicts were meant to be ‘natural’, but now I see them as more deliberately stylised – and this stylised quality seems much more overt in The Buried Giant than it did in (say) The Remains of the Day. I’ve only read three of his books, and of course I could be wrong – maybe all his fiction feels obviously artificial if you’ve read enough of it – but this is how it seems to me at the moment.

      • Ach! But I can’t imagine going back through all of … say … Patrick Modiano’s books to get to the one that’s hot today. Life’s too short. lol – (And another thing is that I’m well into retirement now so I’ve been reading my favorite authors for a good many years. )

        There are a few authors I’ve followed but not since their debut novel. I started Don DeLillo with Underworld and went back a for all but 1 or 2 of the books but kept up. I started Thomas Pynchon with Vineland and went back – read them all now but it took a few years. Started Ian McEwan with Atonement and went back for most of them but not all. Ishiguro is like that. Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie are a few other authors.

        These authors didn’t make much of a splash with their first novels – their best came a two or three books down the line. To me the important thing is keeping up and going back if it seems worth it. Most all the good authors change a bit as they go along and I find I prefer early work or later work or occasional work by different authors. I rarely enjoy every book by a given author with any kind of oeuvre.

        And then comes the week when a bunch of favorite authors all have books coming out – Eeks! See October 20 – there’s Pamuk’s new one plus crime from Galbraith, and Grisham! – Actually – guilty pleasure here – I read the first of the Ladies #1 Detective agency book – Alexander McCall Smith – and have kept up ever since – new one out 10/28. – Just following favorite authors collected over a lifetime of reading is hard work! Lol –

  2. Interesting question David. I can’t talk about it in relation to Ishiguro since I’ve not read The Buried Giant or much of his work. But I’ve found it true with some other authors who could be considered less literary. William Boyd for example I used to love (Mosquito Coast still remains a favourite) but in the last 5 years I’ve become less and less interested in what he has to say. Ian McEwan has blown hot and cold too (the one called Saturday was dire) yet he can still come up with superb books like Atonement. I suppose its natural that they lose the edge a bit as they get more seasoned writers

    • Oh gosh, I just heard the Amory Clay book by William Boyd on the radio and I thought it was dismal. “Lose the edge” is a really good way of putting it.

      • I’ve tried a couple of William Boyd’s books but, to be honest, haven’t really enjoyed them. (I couldn’t find any mention of a Boyd book called Mosquito Coast, Karen – did you mean a different one?)

        It’s an interesting thought that authors might lose their edge as their careers progress, because logically you would assume that writers would get better, the more they write. But it doesn’t always work out that way, as we know.

  3. Maybe losing the fire is less likely to happen to Ishiguro, because all his books are so different. It often feels like just getting to the start of a novel must have been a massive process each time for him.

    • Denise, I think you’re right about Ishiguro being a writer who does a lot in order to even begin – certainly this seems to have been the case with The Buried Giant, from what I’ve heard in interviews. I guess this means that each project is new and vital to him, which is what I’d hope for with any writer.

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