Title: Lincoln in the Bardo
Author: George Saunders
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Experimental Fiction.
There’s one thing I try to do frequently whilst reading, and that’s to expand my literary horizons. I’ve openly said I’m not a fan of Magical Realism but tested out the Francesco Dimitri’s The Book Of Hidden Things recently and thoroughly enjoyed it.
So when a friend of mine recommended Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, I was intrigued And the fact it won 2017’s Man Booker Prize also made me think that this was going to be a hefty book to read.
Now, this novel isn’t for the faint of heart. For me to finally sit back and immerse myself in it I had to attempt to read it twice, and then Google what was happening. But after that, I really did enjoy the flow of the novel and the historical context in which it’s based.
The novel follows the death of Willie Lincoln – President Lincoln’s beloved son, and the bulk of the tale is set over the course of one evening.
Set in a ‘bardo’ – a Tibetan spiritual state that’s the intermediate between death and rebirth, this novel explores different characters and how they deal with living in this bardo.
With the story of Willie Lincoln being the backdrop of the entire novel, there are different ‘ghostly’ voices that focus on this ghoulish tale. They recite how Willie Lincoln became temporarily interred in a borrowed crypt and how the bereft President would frequently be seen holding his dead son’s body.
The main voices that Saunders uses to tell the story are named Roger Bevins and Hans Vollman. Each of these men met their end and have been stuck in this bardo, and they become the main narrators as they meet the ghost of Willie.
Now my initial confusion came about because there is such a large number of different point-of-views in this novel. I would urge readers to imagine that all these voices are narrators who speak over each other, and flicker between talking about Willie and their own death stories.
If you can just ease into it that way, it’ll help you out tremendously.
The novel is very good when you get past the original stumbling block. The different voices and characters all add something special to this ‘bardo’ and you do find yourself looking out for your favourite voices.
There are extra levels of creepiness within the ‘bardo’ – which fears coming out about realising that they are dead, or becoming trapped in a carapace of souls/bodies. You find yourself feeling sorry for these characters trapped in limbo. They never seem to settle.My
My favourite part of the entire novel was the times you get taken out of the bardo and get to read real-time accounts of Willie’s death. Here you get to read extracts from various letters/papers/sources about how the President and Mary Todd reacted, and even how the public perceived them. They are wildly contradictory, and it really gave you a whole new perspective on how Lincoln was thought of.All in all, I really enjoyed this novel despite my initial hang-ups. You really have to sit back and relax into it. And when you do, you’ll get transported back in time to a strange historical point with some spirituality thrown into it.
All in all, I really enjoyed this novel despite my initial hang-ups. You really have to sit back and relax into it. And when you do, you’ll get transported back in time to a strange historical point with some spirituality thrown into it.