I started devouring this book the second it came in for me, but didn’t get far the first night. Then I got on a plane at an ungodly early hour last weekend, and I read from chapter 3 to the end before I reached the east coast. It’s that good. Among all of the other things it does, this book asks the question: is it possible that forgetting your past is not only not a bad thing, but sometimes one of the better things that could happen to people?
Our protagonists, Axl and Beatrice, are an elderly married couple who live in post-Roman Britain. Everyone in their town suffers from what they have come to call “the mist” – no one can remember many details of their lives, or recent events, or hold any one thought for long. Axl and Beatrice decide to go visit their son, even though they have never been to his village, and can barely remember what he looks like or why he left them in the first place. (They vaguely remember that they once had a reason not to visit, and that they disagreed about it, but can’t remember what the reason was or which of them refused to go.) They get as far as a neighboring village before they are joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior and an orphan he is protecting, and they wind up joining in on a quest to slay a dragon who may or may not be responsible for the forgetfulness that plagues their land. They meet a knight – Sir Gawain of Arthurian legend – whose mission is supposedly to slay the dragon, but….it’s complicated. I don’t want to give away what happens, but it comes down to the party deciding – are the people better or worse off because they have forgotten their pasts? Should they slay the dragon and restore everyone’s memories, or try to keep her alive to keep the past at bay? There are compelling arguments made for both sides.
There are so many layers to this story that I can’t do them justice. I started the book because I enjoyed Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, but this book really isn’t like either of those. (It’s as if Ishiguro has a different personality with a different writing style for every one of his books.) If you like dreamy, symbolic fairy tales and/or have philosophical questions about war, life, memory, forgiveness, love and/or marriage, you might like it. Try it!