Set in an undefined part of England where Britons and Saxons are living in peace with each other an old Briton couple Axl and Beatrice set out upon a journey to visit their son. The history of the couple and their lives before this day are unclear, lost within a mist that sweeps across the land. On the way to visit their son, they meet a number of mysterious people, including Wistan a Saxon warrior, Gawain a night of King Arthur and a Saxon child, Edwin, who has been forced to flee his village after they believe him to be bitten by an ogre.
During the course of their travels Axl and Beatrice find out what is behind the memory clouding mist and must face the reality of remembering things they may have preferred to have left forgotten.
I thought this was a beautiful book. Like man of his other books Kazuo Ishiguro has an almost poetic tone to his writing, slowly moving us through the story. As referred to in my previous post there is definitely a haunting theme to this book. Each of the characters is haunted by their past, memories are eclipsed breaking through in small moments of light. When reading you cannot help but reflect on your events in your own life that haunt you. Do we remember them as they were? Or do we cast a favourable light even on our worst memories?
There are also a lot of secrets in the book. We are often held in the perspective of Axl and Beatrice unsure as to what is happening and whether we are being told the truth. From the mysterious animal that bit Edwin to the behaviour of the monks we are often left lost and guessing, caught up in the cloud of mist. As the truth unfolds it commits us more to the story, to the journey that Axl and Beatrice are on and to the task that lies before all our characters. Even the ending of the book is shrouded in haunting images and secrecy as Axl and Beatrice meet once again with the boatman.
Reading other reviews of the book on Goodreads I was shocked by how many people felt to connection to the characters, did not care for them and were not engaged by the book. I cherished the main couple on the story admiring their love for each other and hoping that in our later years my husband will still call me princess and look out for me on our adventures. I also find the more mysterious and deep characters of Wistan and Gawain compelling. Both warriors clearly carry a heavy weight upon their shoulders and their loyalty to the leaders is admirable. When their individual tasks bring them face to face it is difficult to accept although by that stage in the story you know the outcome is inevitable.
Those that have become caught up in the idea of this as a fantasy novel are I believe completely missing the point of Ishiguro’s writing. A scene has been painted in 6th century Britain and colour is given with reference to ogres and dragons but this is ultimately a book about relationships and memories. Through Axl and Beatrice we must face some stark questions about humanity. Who are we without memories? Can we create a future without knowing the past? Is love strong enough to forgive the past?