Lincoln in the Bardo Review

I didn’t like this Man Booker Prize winning book at all but I admire it as a piece of experimental literature. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was the strangest book I have ever read. It’s narrative structure irritated and distracted me. I started and stopped this book about ten times and reread a lot of books in between reading this. But finally I got to the end.

Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, ISBN 9781408871775, 343pp, Pub by Bloomsbury

Lincoln in the Bardo tells the tale of the death of President Lincoln’s eleven-year-old son Willie and the imagined story of him lingering in a place between life and death. This bardo is inhabited by other spirits who wander restlessly through the graveyard where they were buried arguing with each other and recounting tales of their lives and disappointments.

President Lincoln greatly shakes up this world in between when he comes to the crypt at night to visit his dead son.

This is a highly imaginative book that is told via many different points-of-view. Sometimes it’s a sentence at a time so pages are filled with one line from a character and then a citation of who that character is. Sometimes one little observation about an event is told from ten different people’s perspectives and everyone has a different opinion. It was this manner of narration that drove me crazy because I felt it ruined the flow of writing. It took me three quarters of the book to get used to this style of writing.

Sample page Lincoln in the Bardo
A sample page from Lincoln in the Bardo

Some of the characters also spoke almost incoherently and sentences were constructed and words spelt like they spoke. At times it felt like I was reading a foreign language. But I did admire this book and can see why it won the Man Booker Prize. I think many Literature and Creative Writing university students will study this book and dissect its structure for years to come.

So in summary, Lincoln in the Bardo was not my cup of tea but has literary merit and was unlike anything I have ever read. It has been a while since a book challenged and perplexed me so much. And I have to say the in between world George Saunders created is both haunting and memorable.

I felt so happy to push through to the end of this and not abandon it.

Verdict: Read this if you want to be challenged and pushed outside your reading comfort zone.

Have you read Lincoln in the Bardo? What did you think?


9 thoughts on “Lincoln in the Bardo Review

  1. J Z. Smith January 28, 2018 / 1:09 pm

    I absolutely loved Lincoln in the Bardo, but Ann Bogel on What should I Read next podcast suggested it be listened to in audio book. I followed her advice and was glad I did. The book was hard to read but the audio has an incredible ensemble including Nick Offerman and hi wife, David Sedalia, Ben Stiller, the author and his family and so many more!

    This is definitely a book that demands to be listened to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads January 28, 2018 / 1:14 pm

      Wow that might have solved my main problems with this book if I had of listened to it. That way it would have been like listening to a play and I love Nick Offerman’s voice. Hopefully other people will see this recommendation from you and listen to the audio.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. littlestarlights January 28, 2018 / 7:34 pm

    I thought it was just fine myself. I tend to like unusual writing formats but I guess this was just a bit too experimental for me, or perhaps it’s more that I just felt that characters were mostly nothing special. It was certainly my least favourite of the shortlist (though I never read 4321).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads January 28, 2018 / 7:51 pm

      I agree. I think it was too experimental for me. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Blind Dog Blog January 29, 2018 / 3:52 pm

    I too found it challenging to get into the flow of the writing style. But once I did, I gained an appreciation for its innovative style and actually found myself enjoying it. I would have given up but a friend encouraged me to stick with it. I’m glad I did.

    Great review. I appreciated your honest assessment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads January 29, 2018 / 4:12 pm

      Thank you. I’m glad you ended up enjoying it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Trang (Bookidote) January 29, 2018 / 5:34 pm

    Omgad I’ve seen this book everywhere didn’t know what it was about exactly! Great review and now I’m super eager to read it 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads January 29, 2018 / 6:03 pm

      Let me know what you think once you do. It’s definitely a challenge. 😀


  5. Anonymous March 9, 2018 / 3:47 am

    It is a waste of time and not enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

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