Review: Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

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“Some blows fall too heavy upon those too fragile.”

My Rating: ★★★

Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction (19th c.), Fantasy

Reading Challenge: 11 out of 35

Goodreads Synopsis —

In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices—living and dead, historical and invented—to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

My Thoughts —

Okay, so this book didn’t really work for me. I KNOW, I’m like the only person who’s read this book that didn’t like it.

Not that I didn’t like it per se, but I just didn’t love it. Not as much as everyone else seems to enjoy it. I think the problem for me laid in the structure of the novel. There were essentially two types of chapters. The first was a chapter written sort of like a script, where the characters talked in both a dialogue and in a narrative format. The second was a selection of quotes that appeared to be from different sources that discussed Abraham Lincoln and his son, Willie’s death. Each chapter was so fast-paced and short that I just couldn’t get into the story enough.

I also found the style of the writing to be eerily similar to that of Samuel Beckett. If you’ve ever read Beckett and you’ve also read Lincoln in the Bardo, I’m sure you see what I’m talking about. I’m not a fan of Beckett at all so the similarities in the writing were not great for me.

Honestly, I’m not sure what more there is to say! I thought that the writing itself was well done. It’s just that this style of novels doesn’t particularly work for me. But considering the accolades that the book has been getting, I can tell I’m one of the few who sees it this way so don’t let this review deter you from reading it if you’re interested in it!

Felicia x