Lincoln in the Bardo

BY George Saunders
Book Information1/1/2/US/RH/2017/?  •  ?  •  ?  •   Booker Winner'17 

Congrats to George Saunders for winning the 2017 Man Booker prize. This is the second successive year that an American writer won the prize since the prize extended to American writers in 2014. Paul Beatty won with "The Sellout" in 2016. Michiko Kakutani, in one of her last book reviews for the New York Times, noted that "[Lincoln in the Bardo] is at its most potent and compelling when it is focused on Lincoln: a grave, deeply compassionate figure, burdened by both personal grief and the weight of the war, and captured here in the full depth of his humanity. In fact, it is Saunders’s beautifully realized portrait of Lincoln — caught at this hinge moment in time, in his own personal bardo, as it were — that powers this book over its more static sections and attests to the author’s own fruitful transition from the short story to the long-distance form of the novel."

This year's Booker Prize judges are pretty brave, to say the least, for picking yet another American writer as the winner. I wouldn't comment on the comparative literary merits of the shortlisted work versus the winner, primarily because I am not qualified to do so, and also because I think literary prizes are confluence of literary criticism and non-literary considerations, the latter an amalgamation of underlying zeitgeist modified by topical obsessions and, in recent times, consumerism. Literary prizes are effective tools marketing and selling novels, an increasing expensive commodity suffering from Baumol's cost disease. The average literary output of a writer is more or less constant (Joyce Carol Oates is an anomaly) but his or her remuneration must increase over time. This combination of constant productivity with rising wage means that novel, as an economic product, must become more expensive than commodities like tee-shirt that can be manufactured with increasing productivity. That's a problem for publishers who are looking for profit growth, and a simple solution is to pass the cost to consumers who are wooed by awards that define "the" books to read.

The continual success of American writers will likely draw irks from some writers. In fact, some successful ones like Julian Barnes and AS Byatt have also expressed their displeasure when Booker prize opened itself to American entries. Such resentment will likely grow stronger if American writers continue to dominate the Booker prize, a consideration that the next Booker judges will likely weigh carefully when deliberating the 2018 winner. The irony of both Beatty and Saunders success is that they, collectively, increased the odds against another American writer winning in 2018. That's the irony of success: when a place gets too crowded, people stop going there.

In any case, what we have here is the Powell's Indiespensable edition. It is signed and comes with a customized slipcase. The book came with a small booklet and a complimentary copy of the illustrated edition of Saunders' first children book, "The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip". 


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