“Lincoln in the Bardo” (1)

What kind of book is Booker winner “Lincoln in the Bardo”? It’s certainly not a novel, not in the conventional sense. There is a story there, for sure, but in form it most closely resembles a play.

So is it a play, then? Well no. In a play, you are told who is speaking before you see/hear their words; in “Bardo” you only find out who has ‘said’ something after they have spoken. Which means a) sometimes you look ahead to see who is speaking (especially if it’s a big chunk), and b) to occasionally it feels as if it doesn’t matter who has said what. And sometimes the words are ‘interactive speech’, and sometimes a character describing what is happening (almost like a Shakespearean aside).

But it’s worse than that, because some of the things that are ‘said’ are not words that were verbalised by ‘characters’ at all, but are quotes from other books; so other written words, other reported speech, other descriptions…. [I was struck by a section where various sources quote the colour of Lincoln’s eyes… Blue, blue-grey, grey-blue, not blue at all…What colour were they?! Does it matter that we don’t know for sure?! There’s a provocative “So what?” question buried in here…]

In terms of the overall, the best I can come up with is that “Bardo” is a narrative. It’s a story, where form has this dual personality: it is both the most and the least important thing in the book. For someone currently playing with a ‘narrative poem’, all sadly interesting stuff!

[About 65% through the book; final verdict soon!]

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