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Exhuming the Narrator in 'The Buried Giant': Genre and Intertextual Inference in the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro

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posted on 2021-12-08, 07:52 authored by Forlong, Jay Campbell

This thesis takes the critical response generated by Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, his most recent novel, as an invitation to re-examine the overall literary ‘experiment’ of his body of work. Ishiguro’s novels, regardless of their genre, message, or cultural moment, create experiences in which the reader engages with each narrator as if they were a human being. His attention to stylistic and formal detail foregrounds our awareness of his art in each text, and much scholarship focuses on overarching discussions of memory, identity, and history; however, this all relies upon the empathy that the texts generate between the character-narrator and the reader. The commitment to mimesis over the synthetic or thematic dimensions of the text, to draw on the theoretical model of character presented by James Phelan, often remains covert throughout each novel, but character mimesis nevertheless acts as both an accessible entry point to the novels, and a consistent touchstone throughout and across the texts.  Upon the publication of The Buried Giant, Ishiguro was met with criticism and dissatisfaction from numerous reviewers and scholars, despite general public appreciation of the novel. At the heart of this dissatisfaction lies a sense that Ishiguro’s foray into fantasy lacks the affective power of his iconic artlessness. Specifically, The Buried Giant appears to lack a central, consistent, human voice to hold together the synthetic and thematic work that the text performs.  This thesis presents an argument that finds within The Buried Giant the presence of a first-person voice that, rather than diverging from each of Ishiguro’s previous narrators, takes his experimentation with the first-person voice to a new extreme. This reading allows me to locate The Buried Giant more squarely back in conversation with the rest of Ishiguro’s oeuvre, by identifying a covert but vital thread that exists beneath the shifts in genre, thematic and synthetic choices, and context of the novel. I explore the establishment of character mimesis across Ishiguro’s body of work, how this feeds into both the dissatisfaction with The Buried Giant and my reconciliation of the novel to his earlier works, and finally how The Buried Giant and its shift to both a covert narrative voice and the genre of fantasy provides an opportunity to re-examine Ishiguro’s use of non-mimetic structures and generic conventions in his first six novels around the central, mimetic narrator.  As suggested, this approach draws significantly on the theory of character presented by James Phelan, which allows for comprehensive consideration of diverse textual functions that occur both throughout a given text and across several texts of widely varying genres and perspectives. I touch on notions of unreliability, memory and subjective history, trauma, and identity performance, each of which are central to many pieces of scholarship on Ishiguro’s novels; however, the aim of this project is to swiftly push beyond readings that prioritise synthetic and thematic dimensions of the novels to reach the heart of how the voices who capture their own stories completely entrance Ishiguro’s readership.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Grener, Adam