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review 2017-09-13 02:59
Review: Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo is all about structure. It's sold as a novel, but if publishers could make money from the selling of scripts, you know it would've been sold as such. It alternates between snippets of “historical” quotations and dialogue. Some readers will find this clever. Others will find it distracting. Either way, it's the one thing most readers will likely first recall anytime they think about this story.

George Saunders' latest is also known for its huge cast of characters. Despite having a cast of hundreds, this is really the narrative of Hans Vollman and Roger Bevins III. Reverend Thomas apparently had considerable “page time” as well, but I barely remember him as a character. Someone remind me, what was significant about Thomas? So Vollman and Bevins—that's where the bulk of the story is. Of course the story is in many ways about Abraham Lincoln.

Given its structure, the book has a rather fragmented feel, and this can require some adjusting for the reader. Eventually, I got used to it and it was fine. What bothered me, however, was why the dialogue of some characters was spoken by others. For instance, in one passage where Bevins, Vollman, and Thomas are present, Vollman says, “Strange here, he said. Not strange, said Mr. Bevins. … One gets used to it, said the Reverend. …” It goes on. That's all Vollman. This sort of exchange happens repeatedly. It really threw me and I could find no consistency as to why one character is speaking for another. In a story where dialogue is everything, why put words into the mouths of others? Unless what seems to be dialogue is not truly dialogue, but is merely the written word. So all these “ghosts” are collaborating on a book together? If so, it's a huge clusterfuck.

Honestly, I don't know exactly how I feel about this book days after finishing it. Initially, I sort of liked it, but the more I think about it, the less sure I am. There are interesting stories within the larger story. And I really liked the historical perspective. While some of the quotations are author-invented, they are mixed with enough factual quotes to paint a fairly accurate portrait of Lincoln and his presidency at the time of Willie's death. Opinions at the time were ones of both disdain and adoration. Not at all different from our modern political leanings, but it does give an entirely different perspective of the Lincoln presidency than most modern accounts. Also, in a book about dead people conversing, you'd think there might be more retrospection or insight to the afterlife. Instead, we have characters who pretty much are the same as they were when they were alive, all their defects on full display in complete ignorance.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a strong book in that it takes an original idea, shows ample research, and presents these in a way that is unique and certainly a selling point for some readers. It's also a book that's not going to work for everyone. I'm on the fence about it overall, though I do respect the effort.

Man Booker Prize 2017:
This one might go on to the shortlist. But I think it has as good of a chance of not going. I think it'll sort of depend on whether some of the titles I haven't gotten around to yet—particularly Reservoir 13 and Elmet—are stronger contenders. Even if it makes the shortlist, I'll be surprised if it takes the Prize.

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review 2017-08-14 05:07
Wow, I've Never Read Anything Like This
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Most amazing narration with 166 different people, stars, musicians, family. Their unique voices and characters make this a most unusual and fascinating story. I admit to being a bit lost in the beginning till the time line clicked in my head and I understood the voices POV. The characters kept referring to the sick boxes, I was so confused till, I got it and then everything clicked. Looking at life from the other side, it made me think.
Fascinating ghost story, filled with dramatic historical events, people along with a great cast of fictional charters to spice it up. I loved each one, each from a different time, each brought something from that time to the story. Some crude, some fearful, some so intense, all entertaining. Even the dialog was tailored to fit the time of the characters. Each in denial, each has a summit to pass. Young Willie Abraham Lincoln's son was just a small drop in the pond, the wave changing each life, or after life. Amazing.
What a movie this book would make.

The 166-person full cast features award-winning actors and musicians, as well as a number of Saunders’ family, friends, and members of his publishing team, including, in order of their appearance: 
Nick Offerman as HANS VOLLMAN
David Sedaris as ROGER BEVINS III
Carrie Brownstein as ISABELLE PERKINS
Lena Dunham as ELISE TRAYNOR
Ben Stiller as JACK MANDERS
Julianne Moore as JANE ELLIS
Susan Sarandon as MRS. ABIGAIL BLASS
Bradley Whitford as LT. CECIL STONE
Bill Hader as EDDIE BARON
Megan Mullally as BETSY BARON
Keegan-Michael Key as ELSON FARWELL
Don Cheadle as THOMAS HAVENS
Kirby Heyborne as WILLIE LINCOLN,
and Cassandra Campbell as Your Narrator

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text 2017-08-13 23:25
Reading progress update: I've read 85%.
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

The sick box, the denials, the confessions, sickly fascinating

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review 2017-06-11 19:52
Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo is a fascinating, unique and mesmerizing reading experience and I have to admit I have never read anything quite like it.


Saunders takes the reader on a journey to the bardo, a kind of "in-between-place", where the souls of the dead, who have unfinished business on earth, linger and obsess over their unfinished business on earth. On the night of his burial eleven year old William Lincoln gets stuck in the bardo, unable to pass on to the place beyond, eventhough this means a threat to him. Will the ghosts of the bardo be able to help him? 


This novel is about grief, loss, love, the bond between a parent and his child, sin, redemption and forgiveness. Especially the passages, where Williams father Abraham Lincoln comes to the cemetery, because he can´t let go of his boy, were heartbreaking.


The novel is split into two narratives and it took me some time to get used to the narration. The biggest part of the novel takes place in the bardo and is mainly told in dialogue from the perspective of three of its ghost (but there is a huge cast of other characters as well). The smaller part consists of qoutes of contemporary peers describing what Abraham Lincoln has done or how he has reacted during the time of Williams death. The chapters with the quotes were really fun at times, because various people contratict each other, beginning from the moon being there or not to the physical appearance of Abraham Lincoln.


The only thing I have to complain about is that Saunders uses a weird kind of humour in places, a humour which is not up my alley. But then it´s been a couple of days since I finished this book and I can´t stop thinking about it. I really liked this novel.


I´ve read this book for the "Main Street 13" square of Booklikes-opoly. Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer and the book is set during the Civil War.


Page count: 343 pages

Money earned: $3.00




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review 2017-03-30 00:00
Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders I don't understand why everyone loves this except me. I guess it's just one of those things in life. I thought it was too nonsensical to read for fun. This is something that maybe you would read in school and break down each part to get the deeper meaning. I didn't feel any of the emotions I was supposed to experience. Lincoln is president. His son died. He's stuck in a sort of between with all these other ghost personalities that are stuck in between too. It's not really about Lincoln or his son that much. This ghosts or whatever they are rant all the time on random things. It tells mixed up bits about their backgrounds. Also, little segments from other works about the president, his parties, his wife or son are mixed in, like one line from this book, one line from that article, one line from a made up source, etc. heavily throughout. I did not see the point of this book.
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