Lincoln in the Bardo – book review

A caveat before I put this on the book club list. It may be just too weird for many people, and there is no shame in that. It won the Booker in 2017 and follows my usual rule: read everything on the Booker short-list and avoid the winner, which will be be too edgy for its own good (it is sandwiched between Milkman & Sellout, two obvious cases in point).

However, if you’re willing to try something a bit different, and your book club has been a bit samey for a while and needs a re-boot: here you go.

Lincoln in the Bardo is the kind of book best read drunk. I’m assuming Saunders was drunk when he wrote it. If you start reading in the evening, sitting on the sofa with a bottle of red, some crackers and a slab of blue cheese I guarantee by 3am you’ll be feeling rough. The story supposedly follows the days when Abe Lincoln’s young son dies and Abe visits his tomb. It’s tragic. He takes the boy out for a last hug. But the tone does not match the situation. It’s comic. There are characters in little Willy’s graveyard, all half dead and unable to move on. They’re in the Bardo (limbo, purgatory…) unable to explode and pass either up or down, the decision is handled in an arbitrary fashion. Good premise, but the weirdness is in the telling, which is a play-type format of semi-formed characters. I guess it works. Or does it? Read it first and decide whether to risk your book-club reputation on it.

Serve wine and turn the lights down. Don’t invite the recently bereaved.

Author: Cristina Sanders Blog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

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