Genre: Literary Fiction
Opening line: “You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated.”
We know right from the first line that this world won’t be what we might expect. Ishiguro’s newest novel is set in a mythical Old England. The country is experiencing a time of tenuous peace after King Arthur united the Britons and Saxons. That peace is held in place by a spell in the form of a strange “mist” of dragon’s breath over the land that makes everyone forget the atrocities carried out in times of war. The mist is sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker throughout the story, so that the characters forget and then remember past occurrences. It makes for rather bumbling storyline—a little slow at times, but not unenjoyable.
The story begins with Axl and Beatrice, an elderly Briton couple deeply in love who suddenly remember that they’ve wanted to take a journey to visit their son, whom they believe lives in a village not too far from them. Along the way, they stop in a friendly Saxon village, where they meet Wistan, a great Saxon warrior who is on a mission to kill Querig, the dragon whose breath makes everyone forget. Axl and Beatrice also have a desire for Querig to be killed, so that the two of them will remember more of their life together. The three of them rescue Edwin, a boy who has been bitten by a dragon and would be killed by the rest of his superstitious village. Their party grows when they come across Sir Gawain, the last living knight of Arthur, who has been wandering the mountains for years on his own mission to kill Querig.
The narrative tumbles out as each character remembers more of his/her story along their journey together. It has all the elements of a fantasy, as the characters must overcome evil monks, ogres, sprites, and other dark beings in their way. But it doesn’t feel like a fantasy novel; they each wrestle with very real demons as well.
Axl and Beatrice’s devotion to each other is poignant, yet they can’t shake the feeling that they’ve betrayed each other in the past. All they know is what they feel for each other now, and they attempt to hold onto that as memories come and go. On top of that, Axl has faint glimpses of his own involvement in King Arthur’s war, and must struggle to reconcile suspicions of what he might have done with who he is today. Wistan, Edwin, and Sir Gawain each have their own unique battles as well.
They all continue on their joint journey to kill the dragon, although as they go they have doubts about whether it’ll be worth it to remember all the bad along with the good.
Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote captures the essence of Axl and Beatrice’s sweet relationship. I love that Axl adoringly calls Beatrice “princess,” and that throughout the journey, Beatrice reaches out with a beseeching, “Axl, are you still there?” Whether or not they come to remember everything in their pasts together, they rest in the strength of their love.
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