Truly a book that hasn’t been done before.
I find that I am rarely surprised and in awe of a book. Ever since my reading tastes have expanded and since I read so much more, I am rarely taken aback with what an author can do. It’s difficult to find a voice that completely stands out, no matter how good it is. So when I recognize a voice that is completely its own and is so powerful, I am bound to like their book no matter its contents. That is how I felt about Lincoln in the Bardo.
This is a story about Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son who died when he was very young. From that albeit tragic, but still quite simple premise, Saunders builds a story unlike anything I’ve read before. I found the novel to be completely groundbreaking, just because I’ve never read something quite like it, and I am pretty sure there isn’t anything like it out there. So let’s delve into its specifics, shall we?
The structure is weird. In a good way.
This is advertised as a novel, but it really isn’t. This is in format most similar to a play. But not a conventional kind of play. It’s quite difficult to explain really.
In part, Saunders tells his story through actual quotes from historic works about Abraham Lincoln. He takes snippets from history books and rearranges them to suit his needs. He basically cuts and pastes quotes and the result is so unique and wonderful. He weaves his story using actual historic events, and uses that as a base to spin this story of tragedy and sorrow and grief.
The other part of the “novel” is told in a play-like way. There are characters and the things they say, just like you’d see in a regular play. But not quite. The characters’ sentences and conversations overflow and tie into one another, the perspective changing quickly and giving off this erratic tone. This might not seem like a good thing at first, but it fits the setting really well and makes the story that much stronger. The setting in point is a cemetery. Willie Lincoln dies, but he gets stuck in limbo (that’s what bardo means) with all these other ghosts that have unfinished business. They are all not quite there, so the erratic way the story is told works perfectly for their other worldliness.
The characters are weird. In a good way.
Their are a lot of characters you encounter, but there are three main characters (i.e. ghosts) we follow. They are really strange, but their strangeness comes mostly from the fact that they are dead. We get to hear their back stories and the reasons why they are stuck there and it’s all so wonderfully executed. That’s the running theme of this book. It’s just well executed.
I also loved the way Abraham Lincoln was portrayed. Saunders juxtaposes his version of Lincoln, the man who is mourning for his son and has trouble letting go with actual quotes from history about how Lincoln was and the final result is so clever and I was just really appreciative of what Saunders manages to do. That was also a running theme of the book. It’s so damn clever.
The book is weird. In a good way.
I wouldn’t say that this was a perfect book. It was confusing at some points and kind of difficult to get into. And it was weird. But the fact remains that this was the most clever and unique piece of literature I’ve ever read. I keep thinking about it and I keep being in awe of what a person can do with their stories and their writing. I highly, highly recommend you read this. Or if not that, just flip through the pages and look at what Saunders does. It’s a very unique reading experience that you should not miss.
Final verdict: 4 stars
A quick shoutout to Keeper of Pages whose giveaway I won and Lincoln in the Bardo was the book I chose for it, so thanks!
Hope you enjoyed my review, and as always, I’d love to hear from you. Have you or are you planning to read this? If you read it, what are your thoughts on it? Let me know!
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