Buried Giant: Characters and action

1

Axl and Beatrice are clearly the protagonists of the book, although Gawain gets a major section in his own voice. The principal and secondary antagonists (dragon and trolls) don't even appear. One thing I noticed was that the secondary characters and monsters seemed more clearly drawn that the principals, which I thought was somehow related to the fact that existed only in the present, and so the lack of back-story wasn't so important, which in turn has something to do with the magic in the story. At the end of the book I had a clearer picture of the boatman (or men?), the villagers, the monks, in their context, than I did of Axl and Beatrice. Well maybe not the boatmen, but they were vibrant if vague. And I thought the secondary monsters were great as well - the dungeon crawl was actually scary. Good stuff.

However I can't really imagine anyone saying, "Hey! I'd like to play that character!" even if they were NPCs, which is what I think Gaiman was pointing to when he said

The excitements that the book would deliver were this a more formulaic or crowd-pleasing novel are, here, when they appear, not exciting, perhaps because they would be young people's adventures, and this is, at its heart, a book about two [old] people who are now past all adventure

What did people think of the characters? How could it make sense to play being past adventure?

Comments

  • 0

    I don't know how old any of us group members are, but at age 63 I couldn't relate to these "old" people! With the echoes of dementia running through the story they felt more like 80-something year-olds... and how many 80-something year-olds were there in Dark Ages Britain roaming about the countryside? I'm totally in favour of older people having adventures in books or in real life, but once again this did not seem credible - it came over to me as a kind of plot artifice to open and close particular story options without any regard to their historical credibility or otherwise (again, is it HF, fantasy, or just a modern novel which happens to borrow some ideas from those two?).

    UKlG pointed out in the interview linked from another question their names. Beatrice is, I suspect, a Roman name and might have some credibility in a post-Roman Dark Ages Britain. Axl is (depending which web page you believe) either of Norse derivation or Hebrew. I could probably go along with her as Briton and him as Saxon, if I believed that Ishiguro was doing anything meaningful with the names at all! I guess that's my feeling throughout - I just don't know which linguistic snippets he means us to take as serious clues and which are just random ones that felt good at the time.

  • 1

    Axl is our viewpoint into the allegory, giving us insight into how people forget their past actions in order to move on with their lives, and how those actions come back to haunt them. Some of those actions, like the ethnic cleansing of Saxons, need to be remembered and addressed. Others, like a spouse's adultery, are best left forgotten. Some memories are forgotten by neglect or dementia; others are forgotten (erased) by force of will.

    I don't think any of the people in this novel are really imagined as "people": they're vehicles for describing the various relationships with memory and forgetting. Axl and Beatrice are old, because old people have, or should have, long memories.

    And, of course, the boatmen were Charon.

  • 2

    Yes, I think the characters were mostly vehicles. At various times in the reading, I wondered if the whole adventure was a fantasy or hallucination of Axl's or Beatrice's. Did one of these characters represent their missing son, I sometimes wondered? Or did Arthur? I also wondered if Axl was Arthur, or maybe Lancelot, and Beatrice was Guinevere, and they had both forgotten their sordid past on purpose. KI seemed by be playing things cagey with the main characters to keep the reader guessing. The lesser characters were more clearly defined, but again not all. Was the priest a helpful or man, or a villain? For a while we didn't know. Did we trust Wistan or Gawain all the time? Even the boy?

    Just as Axl and Beatrice couldn't rely on their memories to fix the world around them, neither could we. I think that was cleverly done, but as a result I'm not sure I would call out the novel for it's character-drawing.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    I also wondered if Axl was Arthur, or maybe Lancelot, and Beatrice was Guinevere, and they had both forgotten their sordid past on purpose. KI seemed by be playing things cagey with the main characters to keep the reader guessing.

    That's an interesting thought. It seems like Camlann hasn't happened in this book, so perhaps Axl is Arthur, Beatrice is Guinevere, and the son could be a metaphor for Camelot. That could equate Wistan with Mordred, and hint at the battle to come.

  • 0

    But the fellowship of the round table (however expressed in this book) had already broken up, so I assumed that Camlann was in the past - if Ishiguro was concerned about such things.

    I wondered if the son had any existence at all as a real person, and whether in fact Axl and Beatrice were childless. But because of the personal and social implications of that they built an imaginary son, and then kept seeing him in all kinds of people they met, projecting their own needs onto others. Or maybe they had had a daughter, who probably would have travelled away to marry, and the "son" is in fact their son-in-law, who they might never have met but could reasonably be expected to support them?

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I wondered if the son had any existence at all as a real person, and whether in fact Axl and Beatrice were childless. But because of the personal and social implications of that they built an imaginary son, and then kept seeing him in all kinds of people they met, projecting their own needs onto others. Or maybe they had had a daughter, who probably would have travelled away to marry, and the "son" is in fact their son-in-law, who they might never have met but could reasonably be expected to support them?

    Given that the "truth" of the son is revealed at the very end of the book and not developed, I'm inclined to take it as face value: a literal son who died from disease.

  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:
    I don't think any of the people in this novel are really imagined as "people": they're vehicles for describing the various relationships with memory and forgetting. Axl and Beatrice are old, because old people have, or should have, long memories.

    But so often they don't, they have short memories, and despite all our tales and techniques otherwise, I'm pretty sure they, and so we, do not and never did. I suspect there is only so much one can remember at a time. However we can through imagination (fantasy) spin out a perpetual thread of memory, but is that the same thing?

  • 0
    Typically someone with dementia has very accurate recollection of things from long ago, like their childhood or some such... it's their short- and medium-term memories that are shot.

    So I'm not at all sure that Ishiguro really intended the tale to circle around actual dementia. As several others have said, it's more ambivalent and indirect than that. For me, it was too unmoored from any real attachments to be satisfying, though obviously different people will feel differently about it. As I think I said elsewhere, I would rather he had just made it a purely fantasy location, as the apparent connections with real places and times seemed weak and unconvincing. For me, it would have been better without them.
  • 1
    edited September 10

    Somebody should write a novel about Axl and Beatrice some day.

Sign In or Register to comment.