The 2017 Man Booker Prize will be awarded to George Saunders for his debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo. Saunders was the favorite to win UK’s top literary prize, his competition including Americans Paul Auster and Emily Fridlund, Brits Ali Smith and Fiona Mozley, and British-Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid.
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Lincoln in the Bardo follows the ghost of President Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie as he reckons with his own death. President Lincoln’s visits to his son’s grave are a prominent role in the story as well. One of the things that makes the book unique is Saunders’ voice. Rather, his variety of voices. There are living voices and ghost voices. Dialogue and interior monologue. It’s something like a literary mosaic–a singular story told by a kind of torrent of voices.
Chair of the 2017 judging panel, Baroness Lola Young, said of the novel:
This really stood out because of its innovation – its very different styling and the way in which it paradoxically brought to life these not-quite-dead souls in this other world. There was this juxtaposition of the very personal tragedy of Abraham Lincoln with his public life, as the person who’d really instigated the American Civil War.
Apparently, it took five hours of discussion and debate before the judges came to their unanimous decision. Along with Young, the judges included novelist Sarah Hall, artist Tom Phillips, literary critic Lila Azam Zanganeh, travel writer Colin Thubron.
Since the award began in 1969, it had been only awarded to Commonwealth, Irish, or South African writers until 2014, when it was opened to all novels written in English. Last year, American writer Paul Beatty won for his book The Sellout. It seems the Americans are encroaching on the UK’s literary territory now.
Though Lincoln in the Bardo was Saunders’ debut novel, his short fiction has won a bunch of awards including the Folio Prize in 2014 for Tenth of December, and he was also awarded the MacArthur (‘Genius’) Grant in 2006. Saunders teaches at the MFA program in Syracuse University.
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