Gavin F (gavluvsga) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Gavin F

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Book #28: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Number of pages: 343

This is a book that I wanted to read because it won the Man Booker Prize in 2017.

Set during the American Civil War, it opens with Abraham Lincoln's 11 year old son Willie very sick; Willie dies very early in the book, and his father makes repeat visits to his grave, unknown that he is being watched by Willie's ghost, and a number of other ghosts who are stuck between life and death.

I don't know much about Abraham Lincoln, so I don't know if the story of his son's death is based on fact.

The story is mostly about Willie attempting to communicate with his father, mostly by attempting to posess his body, but he is being stopped by the appearance of mysterious "tendrils" that appear out of walls and wind themselves around him.

The most striking thing about this book is the completely unconventional way it is written, which didn't surprise me because I've read other works by George Saunders, and he seems to have a loving for completely bizarre writing styles.

So, chapters in this book are written in two different ways. Principally, the chapters are narrated by the various ghosts who feature in the novel, including Willie Lincoln, who use old fashioned language typical of the time period in which this is set, and find bizarre names for things they aren't familiar with (Willie Lincoln's coffin is referred to throughout as a "sick box".

Other chapters are written in the form of excerpts from various books about Abraham Lincoln, though I wasn't sure if these were fictional books as I first thought; I noticed one of the authors was Nathaniel Hawthorne, but I can't confirm it was a book he wrote (I only know that he wrote "The Scarlet Letter").

I found this book difficult at first because of the writing style, and the sense that the story was quite non-linear in places, but gradually started to enjoy it even more, with the darkly humorous tone, and the fantasy and gothic horror elements that put me in mind of Edgar Allen Poe.

Overall, this is one of the best books I've read this year; it feels long-winded at times, but it all leads up to a spectacular climax.

Next book: Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
Tags: 1001 books to read before you die, alternate history, award winner, dark fantasy, fantasy, ghosts, gothic novels, grief, historical fiction, holocaust literature, horror, magical realism, man booker winner, modern classic, modern lit, supernatural

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