Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Imagine the historical research approach of someone like David McCullough, and pull those details into a novel that takes place almost entirely in a graveyard, ghosts and all (picture The Graveyard Book), and you have this novel. I was lucky to receive a review copy of the audiobook from the publisher, because I think this is the preferred format for the novel.
Since George Saunders wrote the novel in 108 sections, with distinct voices, they decided to use 166 voices in the recording (Time Magazine did a short profile of the upcoming production, and you can listen to an excerpt on the publisher site.)
Nick Offerman and David Sedaris, along with George Saunders, are three primary voices (although I thought Sedaris was Holly Hunter until after I'd finished, despite having heard him narrate his own books) and a cast of friends, stars, and family fill out the rest. Some voices are heard only one time, reading a letter or fact from what sounds like real sources, and I imagine some are, some aren't. That is a bit confusing in the beginning, until you get into the rhythm of the novel. It's enough to know that you don't need to remember the voices in conjunction with their names, so they can pass through your mind.
Some of the time the multiple voices seem to just be providing context, but often they are playing with the narrative of context, some remembering a full moon, others remembering a cloudy night, others remembering a crescent, etc. These tiny excerpts are often followed by the narrator with an abbreviation I had not heard, so here's a hint: "Op. cit." refers to a longer bibliography or a previously mentioned citation. I wish they had left that out of the audio because I had no idea what it was for most of my listening experience. I had looked up opsit, opsid, oppsid, upsid, and every other combination until I found it. It's a minor thing but gets used so frequently with all the tiny bits, that it drove me to distraction!
Overall the novel is pretty fragmented, and I found I did better in comprehending it when listening for long spans of time, like the five hours I spent in the car yesterday. I am not sure what kind of novel I expected Saunders to write for his first published longer work, but I did not expect something quite so simultaneously historical and experimental!
The highlight for me has to be Nick Offerman though. He is an excellent narrator and now I want to go back and listen to more of his productions. More, please!
ETA: Changed my 4 stars to 5 the more I thought about it.
One more ETA: love or hate it, this sucker just won the Man Booker Prize!
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