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review 2018-01-10 16:49
Lincoln in the Bardo / George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.


The format of this book will mean that its not going to appeal to everyone. It is told in multiple voices—book excerpts, newspaper quotes, and numerous ghostly voices. It can feel a bit chaotic and I often found myself searching to determine who was speaking.

Despite that, if you can live with the writing style, this is a tale of grief and love. Not only between Lincoln and his son Willie, but the love of all the poor souls who inhabit the bardo in hopes of being “just sick” instead of dead. Saunders’ vision of what this half-life would be like is original and interesting.

I found it curious that Abraham Lincoln, a respected president today, could be so reviled during his tenure. The brutality of the Civil War, of course, was the reason for the mixed opinions, leading me to muse a bit about how the leaders of the last number of decades will be remembered.

This novel touches on all the big themes—love, death, politics, religion—sympathetically but with humour too.

Read to fill the PopSugar reading challenge—a novel based on a real person.

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text 2018-01-04 21:33
TBR Thursday
The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams - Matthew Walker
The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan
It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree - W.W. Jacobs
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Happy New Year, my Booklikes friends!


I have to finish The House on Mango Street tonight so that I can discuss it at book club on Friday evening!  No sweat, I should be able to do that and still have time to work on the next book.


The rest of the roster is necessitated by library due dates!  I'm almost done Why We Sleep, so I should be able to wrap it up quickly (without staying up late, this author has me scared to miss my sleep!).  Due in 7 days.


The Great Hunt is part of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project--its a big, thick book and due in 8 days time.  I know how part of my weekend will be spent!


It's All Relative is a book that I heard about on CBC radio--the author was being interviewed and since I'm a genealogist, I couldn't resist.  A lot of people in my city seem to listen to the same station and the books mentioned are always popular.  There are 34 people waiting to read this after me!


I had a long wait for Lincoln in the Bardo and now I have to get busy and read it.  It's due in 14 days and there are 168 people waiting for it.  No renewals.


Starting the New Year off with some interesting stuff!  Hope your January is going well too.

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review 2017-12-03 01:47
Not "finished" so much as "done with."
Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel - George Saunders,David Sedaris,Nick Offerman

I got one and a half cds out of six listened to, took a break, and then spent a solid week avoiding going back to it. I listened to five or six episodes of The Lost Cat podcast, a couple of In Our Time, some Fresh Air, about an hour of James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, and a couple shows on the CBC, and every time, I thought, "Oh, I should go back to that Saunders book," I shook my head and decided I needed to wash my hair.


This should be everything I want in a book: ghosts, Abraham Lincoln, Man Booker Prize winners, but in the end it just came off as unbearably pretentious.


There are entire chapters of one to two sentence primary source quotes describing the setting, one after the other, and okay, clearly it's a terribly clever stylistic choice, or something (I don't really get litfic a lot of the time), but it's hard to avoid the aura of "Hey, I did all this research let me show it to you!" without having done the work of actually integrating it.


The non-interminable quote chapters were... fine? I guess. It's mostly a bunch of ghost who for various reasons have refused to move on hanging out and watching Lincoln completely fail to deal with his dead kid. Apparently Lincoln's failure to deal is an epic amount of emotion never seen in a cemetery before. Which seems unlikely, but I guess Lincoln's just that much of a special snowflake! Even in mourning was he extraordinary.


There's not that much to say about the ghosts. One's an old dude who won't admit that he died because he was about to finally get laid. He keeps making poop jokes. One's an anachronistic Whitman joke who killed himself. One perpetually sexually assaults a female ghost. None of them had much of interest to add.


Maybe I quit too early, but I just feel like a graveyard full of ghosts haunting Abraham Lincoln should have a bit more going on. Anyway, life is too short.

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review 2017-12-01 19:36
LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Interesting way to look at death.  It took me 80 pages to get into the book then I enjoyed it.  I also had the wrong Lincoln, which did not help at the beginning.  I liked how the historical records were interwoven into the story with the ghosts.  I also liked how Vollmer and Blevins wanted what was best and right for Willie.  They were funny at times.  The three bachelors and their hats were comic relief.  I liked how we readers got to learn more about the cemetery inhabitants as they tell their stories in their own words.  Some are very quick.  Others linger.  Not what I expected but worth reading.

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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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