The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town.
An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. They could get up and leave, or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic - charming, erratic, repellent - exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.
A Horse Walks into a Bar is a shocking and breathtaking read. Betrayals between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt demanding redress. Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dovaleh G provokes both revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn't know whether to laugh or cry - and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he's been summoned to this performance.
Why our staff love Lincoln in the Bardo: Writing a decent novel isn't easy. It's so difficult, in fact, that you'd have to have gone completely mad to seriously attempt it. This is why, for so long, I've been very jealous of George Saunders. This guy started his writing career later in life than most, got work published in America's premier magazines, put out one of the best collections of short fiction I've ever read, got awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (half a million US dollars with virtually no strings attached), and went on for two decades writing only short stories, novellas and essays to much critical success. How does an author do so well in life all the while avoiding that terrible tumult that is writing a novel? The only way to find out is to see the quality of his work for yourself. If you haven't already, go and get a copy of both Civilwarland in Bad Decline and The Tenth of December. They're simply amazing.
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.
Book Description: 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. February 1862.
The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. Days later, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy's body.
From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a strange purgatory - called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo - where ghosts mingle, squabble and commiserate, and a monumental struggle erupts over his soul.
Written with George Saunders' inimitable humour, pathos and grace, Lincoln in the Bardo invents a thrilling new form and confirms him as one of the most important writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices - living and dead, historical and fictional Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?