Today I’m reviewing the 2017 Booker Prize Winner, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
I’d previously bought the paperback late 2019 but didn’t get round to reading it. I’d heard from a couple of my colleagues that they found it quite a hard read, and so when I found an audio version of it, I decided to listen to it whilst reading along.
The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War
The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.
From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?
Star Rating – 3.5 Stars
I’d highly recommend reading this book whilst listening to the audio.
The book is set out much like a play, with various characters taking centre stage at times, re-living their stories and, at times, this can get a tad confusing when they’re all talking over each other.
The audio I listened to featured a full cast – this was a fantastic way to listen to the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I also found I understood and followed along to the story a bit better, maybe you disagree?
The story is sad, of course it is, it is surrounded/enveloped in death, and the characters obsession with the ‘sick box’ also leads the book to have an overall sadness to it. But it was interesting, written well and I enjoyed the inclusion of quotes from various historical writings at the time, which made the book flow from time to time, jumping back and forth between father and son.
As always, let me know in the comments below if you’ve read the book and what you thought of it. And if you haven’t, will you be giving this book a read or listen?