AMERICAN author George Saunders has won the Man Booker Prize for 2017.
His novel Lincoln in the Bardo, beat off stiff competition from Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves, Fiona Mozley’s Elmet, Paul Auster’s 4 3 2 1, Ali Smith’s Autumn and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.
Saunders built his reputation on the back of his excellence as a writer of short stories but Lincoln in the Bardo is his first novel.
He is now not just £50 000 (R903 570) richer, but the Royal Mail will literally give him the stamp of approval by using a special “Congratulations to George Saunders, winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize”, franking mark.
He can also look forward to a huge spike in sales as readers rush to see just what the fuss is all about. Chairperson of judges Baroness Lola Young described Saunders’ novel as “unique”, adding that the book stood out for its innovation and very different storytelling.
“When I first opened the book, I thought this is going to be pretty challenging, but that challenge is part of its uniqueness. The book demands of the reader: I dare you to engage with this kind of story written in this kind of way,” she said.
The novel, based on a factual incident, describes one night in the life of Abraham Lincoln when he visits the body of his dead son Willie (11), in a Georgetown cemetery.
The night is populated by both the quick and the dead; by Lincoln and by innumerable souls caught in limbo who can communicate with each other but not with him and who have much to say since they are not yet ready to be dead.
The death of one small boy and the pain it engenders is a microcosm of the death of thousands in the American Civil War.
What Saunders does in the novel is explore not just death but life too — its possibilities, its meaning, its missed opportunities.
To create this multiplicity of voices, Saunders invented a new format, a hybrid narrative in which there are sections that read like a play as the dead yammer to one another, with passages of monologue, and sections that introduce historical facts.
Saunders has said that he was “captivated by this story I’d heard years ago about him entering his son’s crypt, and set out to try to instill the same reaction I’d had all those years ago”.