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 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.
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?