Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo is one of those Literary titles. The kind that when read at the right time can be worth more than their weight in gold. The flip side to this is, of course, when read at the wrong time, reading such a book can be a painful, thankless chore. Unfortunately, I read this book at the wrong time, and for the wrong reason. I bought it because it had been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. As we now all know, Lincoln in the Bardo was chosen as the winner. I think that the buzz about the book has settled enough for me to publish my review--something that I didn't want to do when there was a lot of high excitement about the title, and when it was most likely to reach those readers who would cherish it. 

From a shred of historical fact about the death of Abraham Lincoln's ten year old son, author George Saunders creates a rich and colourful world, where the recently deceased Willie Lincoln finds himself living in a cemetery among ghosts, each one quite lively and quite different from the other. In paragraphs that often alternate between the ghostly characters, each tells their life story. Parts of the book a terribly funny, parts are very clever and there is, of course, a great insight into human nature and what life was like for people living in that era. And, obviously, there is quite a lot of magical realism cleverly done. It's not difficult to see why the book won such a prestigious prize, and why so many readers--including those whose opinions I hold in high esteem--were very taken with this book. Unfortunately, something about it didn't work quite as well for me, and I am inclined to think that I may have read it at the wrong time, and almost certainly for the wrong reason. There is little I can fault the book itself on, apart from the fact that it annoyed me occasionally, and I found myself not really wanting to go back to it.

Maybe I'll return to this one another time, and I'll enjoy it then ...