Apart from Ann Handley’s very useful Everybody Writes which I am still poring over at work, I have recently been reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro and Lee Child’s The Visitor. The two reading experiences were poles apart.
Ishiguro, celebrated author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, writes literature whereas Child, author of the best selling Jack Reacher novels, writes thrillers. Is it fair of me therefore, given that the two authors operate in different realms of the writing world, to make any comparisons between The Buried Giant and The Visitor?
Well they were both bought by me and they were both read by me so perhaps in actual fact I represent the average reader and so as such I’m entitled to pit these books against each other.
It’s very easy for me to say that I enjoyed The Visitor about three times more than The Buried Giant. It took me about three times longer to read the shorter Ishiguro novel and that’s very telling. It didn’t hold my imagination captive and in terms of grammar and sentence construction was harder to read.
Child is very good at hooking the reader in and maintaining their interest in the story which is fast paced and exciting. He doesn’t let the English language get in the way (although if he writes ‘full dark’ any more often in the next novel I will scream) whereas Ishiguro has a slow thoughtful (but not overly thought provoking) convoluted style which almost lulls the reader to sleep and I get the impression he has agonised like a suffering artist over the use of almost every word.
Dialogue in The Visitor is snappy and to the point. Reacher doesn’t like long drawn out conversations and can be quite a bitch with the old put-downs when he’s riled. The characters in The Buried Giant in comparison talk in an overly drawn out formal style reminiscent of an Elizabethan court – despite the setting being a post-Arthurian fantasy Britain. It got to the point where I was thinking more about Monty Python’s Holy Grail than the story in front of me. Clip clop, clip clop… and less clip than clop unfortunately.
So pace was a massive issue for me with The Buried Giant. The story itself is actually okay and it’s a shame it is told in such a boring way. There are twists you don’t expect just as there are in the Reacher novels but they arrived too late once the damage had been done by the plodding delivery. I also found the idea of a fog being generated from a dragon’s breath causing severe memory problems among the Saxons and Britons – the fundamental backbone of the whole story – to be more of a writer’s device (to be able to drip feed back stories and create mystery) than a well thought out idea. Saying ‘it’s magic’ with a shrug didn’t work for me this time round.
And this is not to say that there weren’t issues with The Visitor because there were. I spotted the killer within around 120 pages out of the 500 odd pages and nothing, apart from a giant and obvious red herring, put me off my theory. Little things just added to my convictions so by the time the conclusion arrived and Reacher is describing how he figured it out I was just skim reading and ticking off all the things I had noticed. So major smug points to me (because I am usually completely fooled) but dropped marks for Child on this occasion. That said I think this has been the best Reacher novel I have read in the series so far.
The Buried Giant has been lauded as an exceptional hypnotically beautiful masterpiece but you can give me a Jack Reacher novel over one by Ishiguro any time…