Lincoln in the Bardo A Novel
by George Saunders
Random House Publishing Group General Fiction (Adult)
Pub Date 14 Feb 2017
Several months ago, Lincoln in the Bardo showed up in many of the social media platforms or blogs I read. I was curious about what type of book would need over 150 different voices to translate it to an audiobook. I was also curious about Lincoln and his son, Willie. I read a book a long time ago where a researcher is trying to figure out where Willie was buried before being moved to Springfield when Lincoln’s body was moved there. There was somewhat a mystery surrounding it. In any case, Lincoln in the Bardo has my curiosity aroused before I even read the first page.
The book is written in a very unusual style. Every paragraph, whether one line or several pages, has an attribution listed, in lowercase letters. The majority of the characters, Willie included, are all dead and residents of the cemetery. There are a few who are living and breathing. The book opens with the reception the Lincoln’s gave the night Willie died. They had been told he was doing better and it was fine to go ahead with the party. Both President and Mrs. Lincoln went upstairs to check on him several times during the party. Now here is the tricky part, some of the characters are factual as is their description of events. The others are fictional. It would take considerable time and energy to sort out which was which. But Saunders’ writing is so good it is not apparent without the research.
In some ways, it is not an easy book to read. The constant changes in narrator and the usual style of indicating the narrator of the moment is difficult at first. The language is that of the middle 1800’s. It is floral and different than modern speech. It is well worth the effort to stick with the book. The loss Lincoln felt at the dead of his young son is made very, very real. The confusion of Willie to why his father is not taking him home with him is caused by the adult ghosts unwillingness to be the bearer of bad news and tell the child he is, in fact, dead.
Lincoln in the Bardo is one of the most unusual books I have read. It was also one of the most challenging. All and all, I would recommend Lincoln in the Bardo for the unique experience and story it creates.