Poster by T.A.
George Saunders’s surreal, experimental first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday, marking the second year in a row that the prize has gone to an American author.
The novel unfolds in a cemetery in 1862, where a grieving Abraham Lincoln visits the crypt that holds the body of his 11-year-old son, Willie, who died of typhoid fever. At the graveyard, Willie’s spirit is joined by a garrulous, motley community of ghosts who exist in the liminal state between life and death. At times, the narrative feels more like a play or an oral history than a novel, with dialogue among the ghosts, interspersed with scraps of historical research and snippets of contemporary news accounts that Mr. Saunders gathered, or in some cases invented.
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Saunders said he was encouraged that the judges had recognized such an unconventional novel.
“For me, the nice thing is that the book is hard, and it’s kind of weird and it’s not a traditional novel,” Mr. Saunders said. “I didn’t do it just to be fancy, but because there was this emotional core I could feel, and that form was the only way I could get to it.”
At a news conference in London on Tuesday, Lola Young, the chair of judges, said that the novel was “unique” and “stood out because of its innovation, its very different styling; the way in which it paradoxically brought to life these almost dead souls, not quite dead souls, this other world.”