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24 September 2021 | Adult Fiction

Lincoln in the Bardo – book review

I was almost about to apologise for taking so long to read this much-discussed book, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2017. But I will not, because I have read many other wonderful books in that time! But I’m so glad I’ve now read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, both for the story and the structure.

The story is about President Lincoln’s eleven-year-old son, Willie, who dies and is buried. Lincoln returns a few times to the graveyard to hold his son’s body. This is all based on historical documents.

Saunders has taken these facts and woven a story told by the multiple ghosts in the graveyard, as well as using a few historical sources.

At first the effect of these multiple voices, sometimes one liners, sometimes a few pages, is jarring. Who are all these voices, how to keep track of them? But once you’re a little way in, you start to recognise the voices without even needing to flick to the name of the voice beneath the extract.

Fun fact – 166 actors were needed to record the audio book!

To have all these voices, quite distinctive, gradually revealing parts of their own story while they watch the President embrace his dead son makes for compelling reading.

And if you think that ghosts are static characters who can’t change, think again!

This is such a memorable read – one of my favourites for the year. I only finished it last night and am looking forward to discussing it with someone who has read it! So if you’ve read it, let me know in the comments.

In conversation with Hanya Yanagihara

4 Comments

Pamela

Sounds very interesting. I’d love to read it

September 24, 2021 at 7:50 am

Terri

I loved this book, Karen. Such an unusual way of writing. Like you, once I was used to the voices of the ghosts, I was totally immersed in the story.

Interesting Lincoln’s thoughts re loss of one son and great losses of men in war.

September 24, 2021 at 3:59 pm

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