I was wavering on whether Kazuo Ishiguro appeared as a Naked Author or not in The Buried Giant until Damien Walter came up with The 8 Tribes of SciFi (now The Nine Tribes of SciFi). I am an admirer of Kazuo Ishiguro for his shocking ability to walk the tightrope between an appearance of polite self-regulation and a lot of deep shit going on underneath. Out of respect for his own dislike of the word, and for the country which was home for the first two years of my life, I’m not going to use the term “inscrutable”. Clive James says anyone who spends a couple of days in Japan is better placed to understand how it works than someone who never sets foot there and on that basis I would say “inscrutable” is a word designed to cover a simple cultural confusion. Japanese authors can seem remarkably self-effacing, but only when seen from the viewpoint of several hundred years of Romantic self-expression. Japanese authors are expressing their unique view of the world but don’t necessarily see themselves as the centre of that world. I suspect you have to be at least partly Japanese to understand how this is possible.
As I’m working on the premise that a naked author is one with the writing chops to resolve any story in any format, who has left something unresolved, it’s important to knock “inscrutable” off its perch. Ishiguro has said in several interviews that The Buried Giant, written after a ten-year gap, was the book he wanted to write, giving himself free rein in terms of format, background and story. More Tolkein than Game of Thrones, more modern than mythic and nothing like the rest of Ishiguro’s output, it is a classic case of an author sitting opposite his publisher with a determined expression and enough hard-won clout to write what he wants to write. Not self-effacing, and far from inscrutable.
So Ishiguro is not attempting to hide behind mythic obscurity, a bespectacled modern-day Gawain peering out from behind a concealing fable. There is nothing remotely Hobbity about The Buried Giant and its motives are clear, dealing with the need of the old couple to recover lost memories and the wider effect of memory on war, revenge and love. Personally, I welcome any genre mash-up that includes dragons, but this is a dragon serving the needs of its masters and the miasma of forgetfulness at the heart of the story and weary of the captivity.
The Buried Giant didn’t qualify for my criteria of an author who has deliberately left something unresolved because it is unresolvable in the writer’s own mind. At this point, I passed it through the The 8(9) Tribes of SciFi, courtesy @damiengwalter and it got snagged here:
The LitFic Tourists
It’s a rare trick for a writer to be both widely read and critically acclaimed. When literary writers wander into scifi, the attempt to be both often ends up being neither. Justin Cronin’s The Passage was a huge book that sold for a hefty advance and has been duly marketed to hell and back by its publisher. But alongside its two equally huge sequels forms a vampire adventure story that suffers from being neither very scary nor particularly exciting. On the flip side the short stories of Kelly Link, which recently earned their author a place as a Pulitzer prize finalist, are sci-fi down to their genes but you could read them all and never know it. The crossover of literary and genre scifi produces some startlingly original books, but it also leads to some of the most ill conceived and downright dull chunks of wordage out there.
Ishiguro has given indisputable proof of his ability to write crossover literary and genre scifi with Never Let Me Go. He’s not a tourist, and The Buried Giant is far from ill conceived and downright dull. It probably wasn’t the best choice for a genre straddle, having said that. The Buried Giant won’t lose Ishiguro his place as an author of literary fiction or the success of Never Let Me Go, but The Buried Giant is like watching a dancer end with a spectacular example of the splits. Sometimes you think …
Yes, cool. But did the act need it?