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Lincoln in the Bardo: WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017: LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017 Paperback – 8 Feb 2018
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A masterpiece (Zadie Smith New York Times)
Must be one of my favourite novels. What a warm, kindhearted and radical piece of writing. Such delicacy, such serious wit. I love it (Max Porter)
An early contender for 2017's Man Booker, a highly affecting novel about Abraham Lincoln's grief at the loss of his young son (Sunday Times 2017-01-01)
The much anticipated long-form debut from the US short-story maestro does not dissapoint (Guardian 2017-01-07)
The debut novel by the short-story supremo George Saunders. Set in 1862 in a cemetery in Washington, it has drawn high praise (New Statesman 2017-01-06)
A cacophonous, genre-busting book inspired by the death of Abraham Lincoln's young son (Metro 2017-01-09)
Filled with wit and sadness . It is an immensely powerful work. In the hands of the right imagination, the horror of individual loss can become an extraordinarily humane exploration of the beauty and the value of life, however painful (Guardian 2017-09-21)
An original father-son tale that expertly blends history and fiction (and even the supernatural), Lincoln in the Bardo explores grief, loss, life, death (Buzzfeed Year Ahead in Books)
George Saunders makes you feel as though you are reading fiction for the first time (Khaled Hosseini)
A morally passionate, serious writer ... He will be read long after these times have passed (Zadie Smith)
WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017See all Product description
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To address one other point made about this book in reviews, it is not a difficult or challenging read. It takes a little bit of time at the start to tune in to it, but once you understand how the author is telling his tale, it is a very easy and enjoyable read.
This is the story of the death of Abraham Lincoln's young son Willie. It is told by two different sets of voices. Firstly, the actually events around Willie's death are told in a series of snippets from contemporary observers. In telling his story in this way, author George Saunders comments on the unreliability of history, and on the changing perceptions of great historical figures. The Lincoln of this book is at the start if the Civil War and deeply unpopular in some quarters. To some observers his relationship with his son is deeply moving, to others he is a cold and callous father.
The second set of voices is what sets this book apart. They are spirits, ghosts, the undead, remaining on earth in some form of limbo (in some schools of Buddhism, Bardo is a transitional state between death and rebirth) invisible to the living. Chief among these spirits are a churchman, a printer who died before he could consummate his marriage to his younger wife, and a gay man who committed suicide.
The spirits, seemingly unaware that they are dead, referring to their coffins as sick boxes, seek to protect Willie from a form of death, referred to by the citizens of the realm as "matterlightblooming" and from the more malicious inhabitants of their netherworld. They also hope to re-establish a connection between Willie and his father in the hope that he can return to the normal world as a precursor to their also doing so.
In portraying Lincoln's grief at the death of his son, the book is deeply moving, but given that it's primary subject is death, it is surprisingly light, and often genuinely humorous. Alongside Lincoln's grief, Saunders depicts the doubts which wrack him as a leader taking his country into war. He is forced to understand his own grief at a time when his decisions will inevitably lead to other deaths and other parents being similarly bereaved.
The other great theme is, unsurprisingly for the period, that of slavery and relationships between European and African Americans. Oppression and conflict continue into the twilight world, although the ultimate suggestion of where Lincoln obtained his final resolve to fight the war to its end is astonishing.
Also in the graveyard are many other spirits who live in the Bardo which is considered in some schools of Buddhism to be an intermediate state between death and rebirth. The 3 main voices are the spirits are a reverend, a printer who died before he could consummate his marriage to his younger wife, and a gay man who committed suicide, and the book is written almost like a script. As well as the narrative from the voices, the book is interspersed with historical writings of the time, describing the events as they unfolded (I'm not clear if these are true quotations as there is no bibliography but I assume they are!) Other themes include racism (even after death the coloured people don't interact with the white people) and slavery
I really enjoyed the book - it took a few pages to get used to the format but I found it a quick read and as with many other historical based novels I have read, it has made me want to read more about Lincoln At times I found some of the interaction between the 3 main voices quite amusing and this innovative style of writing will stay with me I think.
Just not my taste.
Nor is it a good sign when you need to consult Wikipedia to see what the book is supposed to be about. Not when you're a third of the way through.
Obviously many loved it but I found it pointless and unreadable so skimmed the last 100 pages. A huge disappointment