The Red Door Bistro Book Club on Lincoln in the Bardo

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Six reading groups shadowed the Man Booker Prize this year. Each group read and reviewed one of the shortlisted titles. Here, we focus on Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

Lincoln in the Bardo

On 22 February 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln is laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, his father Abraham arrives at the cemetery, alone, under cover of darkness.

Over the course of that evening, Abraham Lincoln paces the graveyard unsettled by the death of his beloved boy, and by the grim shadow of a war that feels as though it is without end. Meanwhile Willie is trapped in a state of limbo between the dead and the living – drawn to his father with whom he can no longer communicate, existing in a ghostly world populated by the recently passed and the long dead.
Unfolding in the graveyard over a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, this is a thrilling exploration of death, grief and the deeper meaning and possibilities of life.

George Saunders was born in 1958 and is the author of nine books, including Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the inaugural Folio Prize (for the best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short-story collection). He has received MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships and the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.

Reading Group review

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“As a group we were excited and flattered to be selected for the process of shadowing the Man Booker Prize. So excited we even convened an extra breakfast meeting to drink coffee, eat cake and share the good news. It seemed the simplest and most delightful way to distribute the books. It’s been a busy time, ensuring that we had finished in time for the deadlines but it brought focus to the group and provided us all with a good excuse to chat more between meetings. A thoroughly enjoyable experience. Thank you

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders certainly set our tongues wagging. Quite apt really, listening to all our voices talk at once was just like listening to all the ghosts. Two words seem to shout above all others. Admired and Marmite. It was admired for its vivid imagery, intelligent writing, accessibility and contrasting twists between dark and light. It was admired for its eloquence with regard to its social commentary and reflection of humanity. It was admired for its story telling and characterisation and by some it was admired for its humour.

Marmite because it’s a book you either really get on board with or you didn’t. Marmite because even whilst reading it people found there were aspects that they really enjoyed and others they totally didn’t. Marmite because we all agreed that initially on flicking through its pages it wouldn’t have been a book that would have found its way home to be read with our breakfast toast.

The style of Lincoln in the Bardo, we all agreed, seemed quite intimidating at first but turned out not to be a difficult read. We were all glad to have read it and only one or two of us regretted the time spent doing so. It certainly made for a lively discussion. They’re are many interwoven layers to be debated and reflected upon, both in the telling of the story and the style of the writing we could have talked for hours, but as always at The Red Door Bistro Book Club the food arrived and talking with your mouth full is just not polite!"

Get involved

Read reviews of Lincoln in the Bardo and leave your own. Find out more about the book by downloading a free Readers’ Guide and a supporting booklist featuring similar titles.

Meet all of the shadow reading groups for this year.

If your reading group would like to apply for similar opportunities in the future, please visit our Noticeboard.

You can listen to the brilliant Man Booker Prize podcast audio series on Soundcloud with Joe Haddow from Radio 2.

Keep up to date on all the latest reading group news – sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter.

Share your thoughts about the Man Booker Prize on Twitter and Instagram using #FinestFiction and #ManBooker2017.

For more information, visit the Man Booker Prize website.

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