The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

People should post books they read on Instagram instead of food they eat.
People should post books they read on Instagram instead of food they eat.

I finished reading a book called The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro that my step-mom had gotten me. I’m going to be delivering some spoilers about the book in this post, so be forewarned. If you’re interested in Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing or King Arthur stuff I’d recommend you finish the book on your own before reading this post.

The book is set a generation or so after King Arthur, when all his knights are getting old or dead.

The book follows the journey of a married couple, Axl and Beatrice, who are traveling to their son’s village.

A mist covers England clouding people’s memories. People forget things after the simplest of distractions. Old memories are difficult or impossible to recall. And the problem affects everyone.

The memory mist springs from a dragon and it becomes the quest of Axl, Beatrice, and a few people they meet on their journey to slay the dragon.

The dragon slaying is all fine and good and I loved reading those parts. It may not be a traditional King Arthur tale, but I love reading new takes on old things and it hit a home run in being a King Arthur story.

What bothered me about the book is what has bothered me about a lot of books, the ending is sad.

I remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was in high school. I asked him, “Why do modern stories have bad endings? Ancient stories always have the good guys killing the bad guys and everyone living happily ever after. Like King Arthur.”

My dad said something along the lines of, “Modern stories have bad endings because they’re more real. Fairy tales like King Arthur are fine for kids, but grownups like stories that are real, that they can relate to. It’s cathartic.”

That answer was good enough for me back then, but I’ve done some more thinking on it since.

First, bad endings are not solely the province of modern stories. Oedipus Rex is a perfect example of an ancient story with a horrible ending. Romeo and Juliet is based off the Greek myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. The Iliad has a powerful ending, but no one really gets what they want. Hector is still dead and Achilles still feels empty.

The second thing I realized is that it isn’t so much the sadness that makes stories feel real. You can’t just have something bad happen to someone and expect people to start feeling empathy for that character.

No. What makes stories real is having characters on both sides of a conflict who could both be described as good.

The Greek myths are perfect examples once again. Achilles is the hero of the Iliad, but so is Hector. They’re both great admirable people (at least to the Greeks. I don’t think someone with the epithet, “the Mankiller,” would be very popular today),

They’re both heroes in the story, but they have antithetical goals. One must die for the story to reach resolution. And that’s what makes it sad.

The conflict doesn’t always need to end in death and the characters don’t always need to be diametrically opposed, but ultimately the “villain” of an adult story must have real motivations for what they are doing. And most real motivations are fundamentally good. People do things to help themselves or the people they care about, not because they want to hurt other people (sadists are exempt).

An easier separation between what I’ve called good and bad endings in the past would be children’s stories and adult stories.

Stories need to be simplified for children which can mean having a villain who is just villainous for no good reason (Jafar, The Star Wars Emperor, Mordred from King Arthur, etc.).

But back to The Buried Giant!

Early on in the book Axl and Beatrice encounter a woman who tells them about a mysterious island that is clearly some sort of allegory for Heaven.

It’s said that you can live on the island and never see the other people living there.

Only a couple that is truly in love will be able to interact with each other on the island.

A couple’s truly in love status is tested by the boatman who brings people to the island. He asks couples a series of individual questions before permitting them to travel together.

The woman that Axl and Beatrice meet describes that happening to her and her husband. They answered the questions and then the boatman said the water was too rough to bring them to the island at the same time.

Thinking she would get to see her husband on the next boat, she said, “Fine,” and her husband went first.

When the boatman came back he informed the wife that she had failed the questions and that she would not be seeing her husband on the island. She left in a rage and wandered England before eventually telling her story to Axl and Beatrice.

Our protagonist couple talk about the island constantly. They are concerned that they won’t be able to answer questions about their love for each other if the dragon’s memory mist prevents them from remembering why they originally fell in love.

In the final chapter of the book they talk to the boatman. The boatman talks to Beatrice first and then to Axl. We only hear Axl’s conversation.

The boatman is very casual and brings up a fight that Axl had with Beatrice once. Axl explains the fight, but is suspicious that he and Beatrice will be denied joint entrance to “Island Heaven” if he tells the whle truth (the reader never learns the whole truth).

The boatman agrees to take them both to the island. Axl hops in the boat with Beatrice.

And then the boatman says, “I can’t take you both at the same time. The weather is too bad.”

Axl’s face darkens. He knows he failed the questions, but he doesn’t want to say goodbye to his wife. He stays in the boat.

Beatrice tells Axl she’ll be fine. They can just meet when the boatman brings the next boat.

Not wanting to upset his wife, Axl gets out of the boat and trudges towards shore.

And the book freaking ends there.

I understand that sad endings are sometimes more realistic, but this felt more like the author screwing with me.

Couldn’t they have been allowed to go together? Couldn’t we have learned a few more specifics about what Axl and Beatrice fought about long ago?

Nope! Ishiguro does the smart thing. If you have questions that don’t need answering in a story, then don’t answer them. People will come up with their own answers and those will always satisfy the readers more than anything you can come up with.

So does the boatman come back and take Axl to be with Beatrice? It’s possible, but my own answer to that question was, “No.”

And that’s a sad ending.

-GoCorral

Arriving to and Leaving from the Island

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: Bois Blanc Island Dinners

Coming on the ferry to Bois Blanc Island has an unofficial ceremony to it.

A member of the Plaunt family that runs the ferry backs my rented car onboard and I walk on.

As the ferry pulls away from the dock I watch the bridge opening in front of us over the Cheboygan River.

The ferry pulls out past the icebreaker that keeps the Straits of Mackinac open during the winter.

This boat is named the USCGC Mackinaw.
This boat is named the USCGC Mackinaw.

I watch the approach of Bois Blanc Island in the distance for a bit before returning to the car to read, chat, or sleep.

Once the ferry gets closer everyone becomes antsy and crowds to the front.

The ferry was pretty busy because people were coming for a tour of all the neat cottages on the Island.
The ferry was pretty busy because people were coming for a tour of all the neat cottages on the Island.

My relatives wave from the sea wall protecting the ferry dock on Bois Blanc.

When we dock we shout, “Hello!” before driving the car off.

We park the car and exchange hugs and greetings with the relatives. Then we drive to the cottages to take out our groceries and luggage.

Leaving is pretty much the same thing.

The relatives come to wave goodbye. They hug, say what a good time they had, and promise to see us again.

The ferry pulls out and I walk down to the end of the sea wall to wave goodbye one more time.

Bye bye, Ferry!
Bye bye, Ferry!

Until next year!

-Mister Ed

This is the last of my posts about my trip to Bois Blanc Island this year. Hope you enjoyed them!

Bois Blanc Island Dinners

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: Food on the Island

Due to popular request (one person) I’ll be going into a little more depth about what food we ate on Bois Blanc Island.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of what we ate. Instead, here’s a nice before and after photo of our rental car’s license plate.

Look at how much dust gets on a car when it drives on Bois Blanc!
Look at how much dust gets on a car when it drives on Bois Blanc!

And now on to the food!

There were seven dinners we had on the Island. Ribs, meatloaf, tacos, kebabs, risotto, lasagna, and one night we went out to Hawk’s.

My wife and I made the risotto. We enjoy making it together a lot.

Risotto is a dish made from rice and broth for those of you who don’t know.

The broth is slowly added to the rice over a low flame. The rice absorbs more and more of the broth until it goes past normal rice consistency into something more like thick stew.

Vegetables and stuff are added to the risotto as well. Carrots, peas, celery, or potatoes.

Spice are welcome as well. Garlic, salt and pepper usually.

Most people add something more substantial like meat as well. My wife is a vegetarian so we opted for cheese and mushrooms instead.

It tastes pretty much like what you’d expect, thick rice stew. We really like it!

Risotto seemed a little boring for us to serve on its own. We included a side dish of roasted potatoes covered in honey dijon mustard and my aunts made a salad as well.

We were a little worried that risotto would weird people out but I think it was a success!

The other notable dinners were mostly the meat ones because of what my wife ate instead.

We were forewarned that my grandmother would be making ribs ahead of time. Fortunately, there is an excellent substitute meat product made by Morningstar for ribs. I call them fibs because they are fake ribs.

My wife ate the fibs while everyone else ate the ribs.

My wife made a side dish for herself of macaroni and cheese (her favorite) to replace the meatloaf.

My aunts made my wife some kebabs without chicken for that dinner. Unfortunately most of the vegetarian kebabs were bell peppers which my wife doesn’t like.

The gesture of preparing something especially for my wife to eat was still appreciated. My wife still had plenty to eat with all the other food made by my aunts (salad, leftovers, crackers, bread, etc).

So there it is! A few of the dinners that my family had on Bois Blanc Island.

-Mister Ed

Next Post About Bois Blanc Island: Arriving to and Leaving from the Island

Food on the Island

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: A Typical Day on the Island

The only picture of food from my vacation was taken on the airplane. This is WordPress, people! Not Instagram!
The only picture of food from my vacation was taken on the airplane. This is WordPress, people! Not Instagram!

Bois Blanc Island is an hour ferry ride from the closest grocery store in Cheboygan, Michigan which makes food hard to come by.

My extended family only stays on Bois Blanc for a month or two in the summer. The cottages are closed the rest of the year.

Any food left during the winter would spoil or be eaten by critters.

Every time we come to the Island we have to buy a bunch of food because there’s nothing left in the cottages waiting for us except a few nonperishables like flour and sugar.

My wife and I went to the grocery store and got EVERYTHING. Enough food for a week plus some extra.

Some things you can’t buy a week’s worth though, like peanut butter or mustard.

Inevitably we buy more food than we eat (buying less than we eat would be painful) and we end up with leftovers.

On the Island leftover food is given to your neighbors to use.

There are two places to get food on the Island, the Bar and Hawk’s Landing.

The Bar is a bar. It has food, drinks, shuffleboard, darts, a pool table, and a jukebox. Nothing unusual.

Hawk’s is a general store, gift shop, and restaurant all rolled into one.

The building for Hawk’s is split into two halves. The front is filled with tables for the restaurant. The back has the kitchen, the cash register, and the gift shop and store.

The restaurant serves breakfast and typical diner food like burgers, pizza, and fish and chips.

The gift shop sells Bois Blanc Island stuff. Shirts, mugs, honey made on the Island, poem collections about the Island, novels set on the Island, etc.

The general store sells gas station stuff like soda, beer, a few Tylenol-like things, and snacks. There’s also cereal, baking supplies, milk, and eggs.

The selection and prices are pretty bad, which is why most people bring food with them.

The only other source of food is a weekly farmer’s market.

The farmer’s market is the only source of fresh produce on Bois Blanc. Most of the stalls sell out within half an hour of opening.

Despite the lack of food options on the Island all the meals are fantastic because they’re shared with family.

-Mister Ed

Next Post About Bois Blanc Island: Bois Blanc Island Dinners

A Typical Day on the Island

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: Mackinac Island

I’ve described what’s on and around Bois Blanc Island, but what do we actually do there?

A typical day starts with my wife and I waking up in the Pines Cottage at 8:30. We sleep that late partially due to a three hour jet lag, but mostly because vacations are created for sleeping in.

In the morning we turn on the space heater in the living room (I’m bad at lighting fires in the fireplace) before doing some activities in no particular order.

We shower, eat breakfast, work on a 1000 piece puzzle of a dragon on a cliff, read, write, and play on my wife’s iPhone with limited internet access.

We finished! One piece was missing. Probably stolen by our cat before we brought the puzzle to Bois Blanc.
We finished! One piece was missing. Probably stolen by our cat before we brought the puzzle to Bois Blanc.

At the end of the morning we eat lunch before calling my relatives on the West End to figure out dinner plans.

My wife is a vegetarian. If meat is in the main dish we have to make sure she has something else to eat.

After calling ahead we pack up what we need for the day and go over to the West End.

When we arrive at the West End we put away any food we brought that requires refrigeration before starting another group of activities in no particular order.

We read, write, wade in the water, kayak, watch my cousin and his friend from Montana windsurf, go on a walk, bike, work on a 500 piece puzzle of a pile of beach glass, eat snacks, play board and card games, and chat with my relatives.

This kayak is FILLED with invisible spiders.
This kayak is FILLED with invisible spiders.
Bois Blanc has butterflies too! Take that Butterfly House!
Bois Blanc has butterflies too! Take that Butterfly House!
Two missing pieces that we found later on.
There were two missing pieces that we found later on.

We don’t do all those things in one day, but we managed to do them all in the week we were on Bois Blanc Island.

Around 5 or 5:30 we go over to the New Cottage for drinks with my grandparents, drinks being anything from vodka to diet soda.

We talk with them or they talk around us about people all my aunts know but I’ve never met.

Half an hour later dinner is served and we gather around a big table or two tables if one isn’t enough.

We eat dinner and dessert if there is any.

After dinner we do a few more of the afternoon activities with the additional options of watching the sunset over Round Island at 9:15, or starting a fire in the fireplace or on the beach.

First time messing with my wife's panorama option on her iPhone.
First time messing with my wife’s panorama option on her iPhone.
I made the fire with my uncle's help. Maybe I can eventually make a fire without help.
I made the fire with my uncle’s help. Maybe I can eventually make a fire without help.

Then we pack up our stuff and dodge deer on the drive back to the Pines Cottage.

At the Pines we read, write, work on the dragon puzzle, and eat a few snacks before going to bed around 11.

Then we do it all again!

-Mister Ed

Next Post About Bois Blanc Island: Food on the Island

Mackinac Island

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: Round Island

My uncle's piloting the family motor boat into Mackinac.
My uncle’s piloting the family motor boat into Mackinac.

Mackinac is another weirdly pronounced island name like Bois Blanc (Bob-lo). Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw.

Mackinac Island was the original tourist location in Northern Michigan before Bois Blanc Island and it still attracts thousands of people per day.

Initially, Mackinac Island was a trading post for the local Ojibwa Native Americans. They brought furs to trade with European settlers. The Europeans then took the furs east and sold them.

The traders chose Mackinac to conduct business because it is well situated at the junction between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. People could easily reach Mackinac by boat from all over the Northwest Territory.

Twice a year there is a big sailing contest that fills the port up with colorful sails. Didn't catch the contest this year though.
Twice a year there is a big sailing contest that fills the port up with colorful sails. Didn’t catch the contest this year though.

Since Mackinac was the center of this trade it was important for the British to defend it.

The British built Fort Mackinac on the south side of the island to protect and control the fur trade.

As the fur trade died out it became replaced by tourism in the late 1800s.

Millions of people visit Mackinac Island every year, but what do they all do there?

There are gift shops, arcades, toy stores, fudge shops (Mackinac Island fudge is the best in the world), and tons of state park space to explore.

Fort Mackinac is now a historical site where costumed employees will tell you what life on the frontier was like in the 1800s.

There's a soldier down on the parade grounds giving a history lesson to some other tourists.
There’s a soldier down on the parade grounds giving a history lesson to some other tourists.

There are a few other historical buildings sprinkled around the island including an old doctor’s house and a beautiful church.

My favorite attraction on Mackinac is the Butterfly House.

It’s a little house on the hill behind the beautiful church.

The house connects to a greenhouse filled with hundreds of butterflies from all over the world.

The butterflies flap around and land on flowers and people who are sitting still while instrumental music plays through overhead speakers.

A picture doesn’t really capture the whole experience, but here’s one of my better ones when a butterfly landed on a flower.

So pretty! These two were chasing each other around the house before landing here.
So pretty! These two were chasing each other around the house before landing here.

It’s like stepping into a greenhouse full of flowers, only the flowers are flying around over your head, dancing.

My wife and I got some delicious Mackinac Island fudge before being picked up by my uncle in the family motor boat for the return trip to Bois Blanc Island.

-Mister Ed

Next Post About Bois Blanc Island: A Typical Day on the Island

Round Island

Previous Post About Bois Blanc Island: The Three Cottages

Round Island as seen from the West End beach on Bois Blanc.
Round Island as seen from the West End beach on Bois Blanc.

Round Island is just offshore of the West End on Bois Blanc Island.

From my family’s cottages, the national park is only 0.6 miles away.

My wife and I like kayaking over there when we come to Bois Blanc.

Paddle left! Paddle right! Stormy weather starts tonight!
Paddle left! Paddle right! Stormy weather starts tonight!

There is a current towards the west that will sweep you away if you don’t constantly correct your course on the kayak.

My wife and I capsized our kayak halfway to Round Island once and almost got taken away by the current.

We couldn’t right the kayak, so we ended up kicking with our feet to push the kayak the rest of the way to Round Island.

My grandpa is always in an overwatch position with a telescope on the porch of the New Cottage.

When we capsized my grandpa was ready to call the Coast Guard to rescue us if we went past Round Island into the open part of Lake Huron.

We landed on the westernmost tip of Round Island and saved ourselves a lot of trouble.

Round Island itself is empty and there isn’t much to do there. You can’t go inland because the forest is too deep. There’s an old lighthouse, but it closed when radar became the standard method for preventing ships from running aground.

My family spends our time on Round Island looking for cool rocks, beach glass, or the occasional piece of coal that fell off a freighter and washed ashore.

We do all that stuff, but mostly my wife and I go to Round Island because there is no one else on it.

Bois Blanc is isolated, but there are still happy relatives all around you.

On Round Island there is literally no other person within half a mile of you.

And sometimes solitude is all you want.

-Mister Ed

We made it! No capsizing this time.
We made it! No capsizing this time.

Next Post About Bois Blanc Island: Mackinac Island