George Saunders has won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. You may remember Saunders, known for his short story writing, for his story collection Tenth of December which was a 2013 National Book Award Finalist.
2017 Chair of judges, Lola Young, explains why they chose Saunders’ novel:
“The form and style of this utterly original novel, reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative. This tale of the haunting and haunted souls in the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son paradoxically creates a vivid and lively evocation of the characters that populate this other world. Lincoln in the Bardo is both rooted in, and plays with history, and explores the meaning and experience of empathy.”
What is George Saunders’ first novel about? Here’s the GoodReads blurb for Lincoln in the Bardo:
“On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.
Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humour, pathos, and grace.”
You might be wondering, as I did, why he might have chosen this iconic figure for the subject of his first novel. According to the Man Booker site:
“Saunders told TIME magazine that he didn’t really want to write about Lincoln, ‘but was so captivated by this story I’d heard years ago about him entering his son’s crypt. I thought of the book as a way of trying to instil the same reaction I’d had all those years ago.’”
You may or may not be in the habit of reading the Man Booker prize winner every year, but Lincoln in the Bardo has been rated highly by GoodReads readers and may well be one for the TBR list.