On the surface the story seems simple enough: in medieval England, plagued by a magic that causes everyone to forget the things that happened in the recent and distant past, an old couple decides to travel to a nearby village to visit their son whom they haven't seen in a very long time. However, this being Kazuo Ishiguro, there's so much more to what's really going on.
Much of the story's mystery stems, not from why they can't remember, but from what it actually is they have forgotten. Slowly, as the story progresses, we are given pieces of the couple's, as well as the country's, past. Along the way, they meet up with several other characters who also have a role to play in this forgetfulness and in trying to find a way to undo it.
While there are dragons, ogres, pixies, magic, and a devil dog, this is not a traditional Fantasy novel. Interestingly, though, I think people who either like or dislike Fantasy can still enjoy it for what it is. The message is very relevant to the history of humanity over the centuries, but it's also particularly timely for our age. (And that's all I'm going to say, because even a hint of what it's about would ruin the effect of the story.)
The writing itself is very gentle--perhaps a bit too gentle considering they are on an adventure of sorts. While the setting lacks much in the way of description, the characters of the old couple are definitely the highlight of the novel next to its message. I can't stress enough how excellent the relationship is between this wonderfully written old couple. Never is the story or writing more tender than when it is sharing a conversation between the two of them.
And, yet, I give it only three stars. That's because, even though the novel starts and finishes strongly, there's a part in the middle that just seems out of place. For a stretch of the novel, it was as if Ishiguro himself suffered from the same plague of forgetfulness as to why he was writing the novel and just had the characters do things. Gone was the loaded narrative that had previously let us know this story was about more than just an old couple and a land that forgets. It just felt so empty and out of place that it completely ruined the flow of the story.
I don't want to discourage anyone from reading this novel. I gave a similar rating to Never Let Me Go, for a completely different reason, yet I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to call it brilliant. This one is, too, but it is a slight step down from that one. And both pale when compared to The Remains of the Day, which is about as perfect as any novel can hope to get.
Published March 3, 2015 by Knopf.