An old loving, peaceful and honest Briton couple, Axl and Beatrice, live in a warren in early medieval England, maybe mid-6th century, shortly after King Arthur’s time, when Britons were Christian but Saxons tended toward paganism. They realize that they have started to lose their memory and that they are not alone, their friends and neighbors seem to be losing theirs, too. They think it has something to do with a mist which has settled. They decide to walk to see their son, maybe move to where he lives and the think they remember the way.
Their early adventures include climbing past the place the giant is buried, crossing a monster-ridden Great Plain, and a visit to an old crumbling Roman villa where they encounter an old woman and a trickster boatman (death?) who tests their love for each other. If thry love each other enough they can cross together. But rather than crossing, the couple moves on to a Saxon village where Beatrice knows some people through her trading.
The Saxons fought the Britons until King Arthur, a Briton made the peace and the two now live in peace with some intermingling.
The village has suddenly found itself fighting invaders (ogres and fiends), but they seem to have a memory problem, too – disturbing. There is one friend named Ivor and then they meet Wistan, a warrior. They also pick up a 12-year old survivor named Edgar who seems to have some kind of inner source of strength.
There are several quests now. First it’s off to see a monk named Jonas who lives near a dragon named Querig. It’s thought perhaps Jonas might know something about the memory loss issue, either that or perhaps it’s God doing.
Not quite sure what to think of this – I never would have selected it myself as it’s had horrible reviews. I really appreciated Ishiguro’s five novels I’ve read previously but …
Reading it as an allegory or as historical fiction where the characters really do believe what is reported, it’s great – up to a point, anyway. Reading as pure fantasy it’s silly. When King Arthur is referenced it still reads okay as history, but when some of the other events and beings take place or show up the story turn to fantasy and as fantasy my suspension of disbelief snapped at the idea of the Vikings appearing in the 6th century – no matter if that’s the way it is in Mallory’s version (nearly a thousand years later) or some movie versions. Ah well … Let’s have George Washington in Vietnam, then…
There are several plot threads:
1. Where is the son of Axl and Beatrice, the original quest.
2. What’s causing the memory loss in the land- off to see Jonas, the second quest.
3. What is the young wounded Edwin’s power or source of power?
4. Who is Axl, or, who was he, part of the memory issue.
5. What is it really, the characters don’t remember?
The major themes revolve around memory or the necessity of invention if memory fails.
Do we really want to remember everything?
The story structure starts out fine, a generally linear telling with a few flashbacks to something prior, but because the characters have a hard time remembering, that kind of thing is necessarily limited. Then about midway the chronology gets very confusing with Wistan and Edwin getting separated then finding each other after Edwin talks to his missing mother and thinks about a girl he knew. Then there’s Sir Gawain remembering something about some woman – why have these memories not vanished?