Sunday, 12 March 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders   {Reviewed by STELLA}
This is the most original and enjoyable novel to cross my path in recent times. George Saunders is an astounding writer whose gift for story-telling makes Lincoln in the Bardo a pleasure to read and thoroughly absorbing. Using first-hand accounts and a cacophony of voices (from the spirit world) this is predominately a dialogue-driven novel. The year is 1862, an eleven-year-old boy - Willie Lincoln - has a fever and the Civil War rages in America. The book opens with a stately dinner during which the President and his wife venture upstairs at intervals to check on their cherished son. The fever doesn't break and young Willie dies. Lincoln is inconsolable and this is the story of his grief and his visits to the young boy's grave. The historical details from recorded histories, letters, reports and observances create a wonderfully accurate picture of the time and a truthful account of what happened - Saunders cleverly arranges this information to become a readable script ,building visual scenes in the reader's mind. Interspersed are the sections in the Bardo - the Bardo (from Tibetan Buddhist tradition) is a place of transition, a place between death and life, where those stuck in this world are tormented by demons and biding time until the next world. The array of characters Saunders creates are both grotesque and humorous. Unwilling to depart this world, they live in hope for a way back to their loved ones and out of their 'sick-boxes'. Willie is in the Bardo and it is here that his father comes, stricken with grief, to cradle his son one more time. In this place, the cacophony of voices telling this story and their fascination with the living one who enters their world, are intriguing. Not only do these voices give an insight into the times, but their stories of woe are both tragic and entertaining. Saunders gets the pitch just right. A story of grief and familial love against a backdrop of tragedy and crisis, Lincoln in the Bardo is a gem for its stylistic endeavours and the interplay between lightness and dark.

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