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Book Review: Lincoln In The Bardo, George Saunders

To be entirely honest with everyone, I have mixed feelings about this book.

On the one hand, I can appreciate a piece of literature that is unique and so profoundly creative that I have to give credit to the author for its invention.

On the other, I found the format and narration of this novel to be so incredibly confusing that it detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book.

So while I can appreciate that this book is absolutely worthy of critical acclaim - I cannot wholly say that I enjoyed it. George Saunders is an excellent writer, and I have not read anything like this before, but I'll tell you this, Lincoln in the Bardo is the type of book that you will love or greatly dislike.

The setting is a cemetery, and the ghosts of those buried within are the narrators of this story. There are over 160 different narrative voices throughout the work and at times the narrative becomes jumbled and confusing. Over the course of a night the ghosts voices clamor for attention as they recount their disappointments and triumphs in life and regrets in death.
For me, it was a fascinating piece of fiction, though not my favorite work. I'm not sure if the novel would have been more enjoyable to me if it had fewer voices or a more traditional format, but that's clearly not the point to this book. It was formatted the way it was for a reason and though I felt that the format detracted from the overall story - I'll say that this is a book that I could easily see being taught in my English classes in college.

Saunders brilliantly delivers a goldmine of a novel that would be well suited to conversation. The format is unique, but the ghostly narrators, the purgatory like concept of "the bardo" as well as the thematic elements of grief, solitude, and regret are delivered in what I would call a morbidly comical way. Pieces of the story are funny, yet in a dark way. Other pieces are simply sad. There are so many elements in this novel, it lends itself to conversation.

I have to appreciate that only a master storyteller would be able to write such a book, one that could be both so strange and captivating. I can see why this was long listed for the Man Booker. Like many novels that are more artistic than conventional in their presentation, there are going to be readers who pick this up seeing it noted as a best seller and will just "not get it" and put it down. It's the type of book that isn't for everybody, but what it does - it does incredibly well.

So would I recommend this? I'm not sure. I think it would depend largely on the type of reader who is interested in picking it up. If you're the type of reader who enjoys a more traditional format and narrative that is easily followed and you want to be entertained without really thinking too much - this is not your book.
If you're the type of reader who enjoys a little something to chew on - and can appreciate the WTF bafflement that may arise as you read the story, I think you will appreciate this book - if not enjoy it a little.


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