On October 17, 2017, the judges for the very prestigious Man Booker Prize announced this year’s winner: George Saunders’ extraordinary book, Lincoln in the Bardo. The Booker Prize is awarded for what the judges decide is the best novel of the year written in English, and it brings recognition (and sales, of course) to the winning authors and books (sort of like Oprah’s selections, only with broader criteria for the selections). We have two copies of the book on the shelves here at The Field Library, one of which is an express, so if you want to find out what the Man Booker judges considered to be the finest novel in English for this year, come on in and check it out.
The book is based on a true incident: during Abraham Lincoln’s first term as President. His young son, Willie, died, and the president, in his grief, went to spend a night in the cemetery where the boy’s body was laid. Saunders starts with this and uses the Buddhist concept of “bardo,” a state of existence between death and rebirth. In the crypt, young Willie is waiting for his father, but so are a number of other spirits of people who died and are not, for one reason or another, ready to move on to their next lives.
It’s written in the different voices of the ghosts and Lincoln, an unusual style which one of the judges described as being more like a screenplay than like an ordinary novel, and it does take some getting used to, but in the end the book’s form and substance join together to create a moving reflection on grief, the love of parents and children for each other. It will also give you deep emotional insight into Abraham Lincoln, the man as well as the president.
Come and read it for yourself, but come quickly, because now that it’s won the Booker Prize, Lincoln in the Bardo is going to be extremely popular and hard to get.