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Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Bloomsbury Publishing

Published : 2017

Copyright : George Saunders 2017

ISBN-10 : HB 1-408-87174-2
ISBN-13 : HB 978-1-4088-7174-4

Publisher's Write-Up

Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2017.

A Story Of Love After Death.

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?

'A tour de force.'

The Sunday Times


Daily Mail


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Reader Reviews

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Review by Nigel (310118) Rating (9/10)

Review by Nigel
Book Source: Purchased
Rating 9/10

I have to admit I approached this book with all sorts of preconceived ideas. I’m not a huge fan of literary fiction so would not normally read a Man Booker Prize Winning novel as a first choice, however, the 2017 winner Lincoln in the Bardo was our book club choice for January so I picked it up with somewhat prejudiced trepidation - I was not going to like this novel. How wrong can you be?

The story itself is very simple, Lincoln is grieving for his lost son Willie and can’t let him go in death, while Willie is stuck in a place he doesn’t understand, surrounded by ghosts who are also having trouble letting go. Written in a script style, interspersed with numerous historical quotes, each character recounts their bit of the story to build the whole.

It is how it is all told that I found amazing. When I started the book with its unconventional style I first thought “Here we go, bit weird this…” then without releasing you drop into the prose and are taken along on an incredible ride of extraordinary imagination. I know this is what happens when you read but for me this was on another level all together. The eloquence of the writing and the imagery created by the smallest of paragraphs, and even sentences, was astounding.

Stuck between the worlds, the story hints at the lives the ghosts had, the terror at not knowing what comes next, the missed opportunities from life, the sense of inevitability and loss - all very powerful stuff.

About three quarters of the way through I had to take a break and I put the book down and actually exclaimed out loud to an empty room “Wow!” Not every book can do that. I must admit with hindsight I wished I’d not stopped reading. I came back to it a few hours later and the last quarter did not have the same power on its own so I never managed to get the emotional gauges quite so high. If you can manage to do this book in a single sitting, undisturbed, I strongly advise you do. It is not a long read given the script style so quicker readers will be able to manage this.

There is a message for everyone in this book and I should probably have rated it 10/10 but hey, as the characters of this books show, some prejudices are hard to shed and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Nigel (31st January 2018)

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