On Tuesday 17 October, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders was announced as the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. Lincoln in the Bardo is the first full-length novel from George Saunders, internationally renowned short story writer.
The 58-year-old New York resident, born in Texas, is the second American author to win the prize in its 49-year history. He was in contention for the prize with two British, one British-Pakistani and two American writers.
Lincoln in the Bardo focuses on a single night in the life of Abraham Lincoln: an actual moment in 1862 when the body of his 11-year-old son was laid to rest in a Washington cemetery. Strangely and brilliantly, Saunders activates this graveyard with the spirits of its dead. Saunders told TIME magazine that he didn’t really want to write about Lincoln, ‘but was so captivated by this story I’d heard years ago about him entering his son’s crypt. I thought of the book as a way of trying to instil the same reaction I’d had all those years ago.’
See what the Red Door Bistro Book Club, thought of Lincoln in the Bardo.
Lola, Baroness Young, 2017 Chair of judges, comments:
‘The form and style of this utterly original novel, reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative. This tale of the haunting and haunted souls in the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son paradoxically creates a vivid and lively evocation of the characters that populate this other world. Lincoln in the Bardo is both rooted in, and plays with history, and explores the meaning and experience of empathy.’
Lincoln in the Bardo is published by Bloomsbury, making it the third consecutive year the prize has been won by an independent publisher, following Oneworld Publications’ success in 2015 with Marlon James and 2016 with Paul Beatty. Bloomsbury has won the prize three times before, with Howard Jacobson (2010), Margaret Atwood (2000) and Michael Ondaatje (1992).
On winning the Man Booker Prize, an author can expect international recognition, plus a dramatic increase in book sales. In the week following the 2016 winner announcement, sales of The Sellout by Paul Beatty increased by 658%. To date over 360,000 print copies of the Oneworld edition have been sold, and 26 foreign language rights deals have been secured – 19 since his win.
Other recent winners have included Hilary Mantel (2012 and 2009), whose Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have led to award-winning adaptations on stage and screen, Julian Barnes (2011), whose The Sense of an Ending was released as a film this year, and Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015), which has been optioned for a TV series by HBO. Further winning novels that have gone on to have second or third lives on stage, screen and radio include Midnight’s Children, Schindler’s Ark (directed by Steven Spielberg as Schindler’s List), The Remains of the Day and The English Patient.
See what our shadow reading group, Red Door Bistro Book Club, thought of Lincoln in the Bardo.
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For more information, visit the Man Booker Prize website.