During the American Civil War, President Lincoln’s beloved son, Willie, died. Newspapers report that Lincoln returned to his son’s crypt alone to grieve for his boy. Using this seed of history, George Saunders weaves a supernatural story of familial loss. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm known as the bardo, while other trapped spirits try to encourage him to move on and squabble amongst themselves over the best way to make this happen. Told over the course of a single night, this story describes the monumental struggle Willie faces following his death, and explores grief among both the living and the dead.
The narrative style of this book is unique. The majority is told through the voices of the characters (very similar to a play-script), with some chapters built from excerpts of historical texts. This style took some getting used to and often took the story on rambling tangents, but was a very effective way of telling the story.
I loved the characters. Willie meets lots of different ghosts in the bardo, who all have their own stories and kooky personalities. There are some bizarre features (like Hans Vollman’s giant member) which I didn’t really understand the point of but they certainly helped to enhance the eccentric, unconventional vibe of this book.
I would recommend Lincoln in the Bardo, not because it’s an excellent story, but simply for the experience of reading it. It is unusual, with a unique style and a good enough plot. A modern classic, definitely deserving of its Man-Booker Prize win.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.