WHY: “Lovely: a fairy tale for grown-ups, both partaking in and departing from a rich literary tradition.
A lyrical, allusive (and elusive) voyage into the mists of British folklore by renowned novelist Ishiguro…The premise of a nation made up of amnesiac people longing for meaning is beguiling, and while it opens itself to heavy-handed treatment, Ishiguro is a master of subtlety.” —KIRKUS, starred review
“Mesmerizing. Ishiguro’s story is a deceptively simple one, for enfolded within its elemental structure are many profound truths, including its beautiful and memorable portrait of a long-term marriage and its subtle commentary on the eternity of war.” —Joanne Wilkinson, BOOKLIST
“A slow, patient novel, decidedly unshowy but deliberate and precise — easy to read but difficult to forget.
Ishiguro’s new novel is set in Arthurian England—not the mythic land of knights, castles, and pageants most of us are familiar with, but a primitive and rural country likely far closer to historical reality. This is a gray and superstitious place, rather than a battlefield alive with the color and movement of steeds and fluttering banners; it’s sparsely inhabited and scarcely advanced.
“The grim-textured, circa-sixth-century landscape is also a country haunted by magic, where ogres loom in the dark and steal children, and dragons are hunted by faded warriors like Sir Gawain. But its magic remains in the background, an earthy fact of life rather than a dazzle of sparkling make believe. Here British peasants eke out a hardscrabble existence from caves dug into hillsides, while the recent Saxon invaders live in more-advanced villages of rudimentary huts. Into this countryside our protagonists—an elderly, ailing British couple named Axl and Beatrice—embark on a pilgrimage to the village of their half-forgotten son.
“Although they do cover literal ground and encounter figures of myth and legend along the way, their real search is clearly interior, a painstaking effort to know themselves and each other by piecing together the vestiges of their past. The gift of remembering, as it turns out, will come at a steep price, not for the two aging and kindhearted Britons but for their country.” —Lydia Millet, in a starred review for PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
From the beginning of the book:You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated. There were instead miles of desolate, uncultivated land; here and there rough-hewn paths over craggy hills or bleak moorland. Most of the roads left by the Romans would by then have become broken or overgrown, often fading into wilderness. Icy fogs hung over rivers and marshes, serving all too well the ogres that were then still native to this land. The people who lived nearby—one wonders what desperation led them to settle in such gloomy spots— might well have feared these creatures, whose panting breaths could be heard long before their deformed figures emerged from the mist. But such monsters were not cause for astonishment. People then would have regarded them as everyday hazards, and in those days there was so much else to worry about. How to get food out of the hard ground; how not to run out of firewood; how to stop the sickness that could kill a dozen pigs in a single day and produce green rashes on the cheeks of children.
In any case, ogres were not so bad provided one did not provoke them. One had to accept that every so often, perhaps following some obscure dispute in their ranks, a creature would come blundering into a village in a terrible rage, and despite shouts and brandishings of weapons, rampage about injuring anyone slow to move out of its path. Or that every so often, an ogre might carry off a child into the mist. The people of the day had to be philosophical about such outrages.