Tag Archives: Fiction

Lincoln in the Bardo

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 5.29.24 PM Lincoln in the Bardo
George Saunders (2017)
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017

Whatever the former fellow (willie) had, must now be given back (is given back gladly) as it never was mine (never his) and therefore is not being taken away, not at all!
As I (who was of willie but is no longer (merely) of willie) return
To such beauty.
(p.301)

George Saunders is a master of the short story and of philosophical criticism. I will never be able to quite get over the poetry of his evaluation of Chekhov’s “Gooseberries” Read Here. The finesse with which he reads and interprets this classic story speaks of a writer with a nuanced understanding of life and the equivocal pursuit of happiness. These two themes are also common to his first published novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. In this book, Saunders plunges us into a reality of multifarious dimensions. Willie Lincoln, President Lincoln’s son is dead, and yet he is also not dead, nor is he undead. He is trapped in the Bardo.

Just as these multiple states of being appear to be inconsistent with one another, so does the evolution of our understanding of identity and existence which moves through the pages of this strange and evocative book. There is a moment when the residents of the Bardo merge into the essence of President Lincoln. He is at once fundamentally altered, and yet simultaneously comprised of a conglomeration of alternate beings and identities. The ontological consequences of this scene are mind-bending.

There also other moments which elucidate the tenuous nature of our understanding of identity. For example, the need for the characters to append themselves to the thoughts or statements which they decry in order to retain their individuality, is compromised by the fact that each of their statements are moulded strategically by Saunders to add to the plot and progress of the story on a literary level. Thus breaking what appear to be characters into mere pieces of thoughts and memories, devoid of the independent essence of what would have once made them human. In the end, Saunders illustrates that our life is never our own because what we are is not reducible to one life. We all live numerous existences and identities in the space of an instant, and as in the words of Shakespeare;

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.   

It is a rare book which chooses not to capture the impossible complexity contained in an instant, and instead works to convey the weighty significance behind the consequences of such a truth.   

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The Story of a New Name

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 8.58.43 PMElena Ferrante
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Book Two: The Neopolitan Novels
Text Publishing Melbourne Australia (2012), 2015

All through the reading of this book I was struck with an unrelenting and repetitious questioning of the identity of the possible Lila in my own life. Is she the great friend I had who never let me down but for whom I had such high hopes? Each of which were never actualised but rather exposed as superfluous in contrast to the deep reality of her daily life? Or rather is she found in anyone for whom we have respect? Then, is it Lenù herself which is the real Lila? Never fully realising her own strengths and living in the imperturbable shadow of a creation of her own imagination. But as a I read on, I became more and more convinced that neither Lila nor Lenù can represent one single person, they are only real in the reflection which they project on one another. Lila would be nothing without the weight placed on her by the fatal expectations of her friend Lenù. Just the same as Lenu is nothing but that which she has built from her own enforced comparison with Lila. It is not a question of them needing one another, rather that they simply do not exist as separate entities.