The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War.
Reviewed by Ben at Angus & Robertson Bookworld:
When it was announced that George, perhaps suffering the doldrums of his own success, had decided to subject himself to the catastrophic pain of writing a novel, I leaped for joy. This was because I knew that in this, his first novel, we'd get to witness a well-seasoned and truly inventive writer engaging with the conventions of the form for the first time. I don't think anyone had any idea of what to expect, we all just hoped that it wouldn't be awful.
Lincoln in the Bardo is not awful. It's fantastic. It's an intensive study of how we grapple with death based on the true events of one night during the worst period of the American Civil War. President Lincoln, grieving the loss of his eleven-year-old son to a violent fever, went into the cemetery where he was earlier laid to rest and cradled the dead child in his arms. This haunting and deeply human moment from history retold by George in the most haunting and human of ways. The narrative is built up on the first person accounts of an endless expanse of characters, plenty of them are verbatim historical accounts, plenty of them a fictional accounts, and the bulk of those are ghosts.
This ambitious project makes for a strange and challenging read but when these cacophonous voices join together in a kind of chorus, the story comes alive for the reader and you are hurtled through pages completely absorbed. Lincoln In The Bardo is acutely observed, deeply thoughtful, moving and funny. It's unlike anything I've read before. Open it up and you'll be delighted.