[WATCH] George Saunders wins the Man Booker Prize for ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’

Saunders is the second US author to be awarded the £50,000 prize


George Saunders’ first full-length historical novel 'Lincoln in the Bardo’ has won the Man Booker prize.

The book, based around the real events of 1862, follows Abraham Lincoln burying his 11-year-old son Willie. At the graveyard, the boy’s spirit is imagined trapped in the Bardo – a Tibetan Buddhist term for a kind of limbo – where the boy joins a community of ghosts who exist between the limits of life and death, and waits for his father's return.

The novel follows a different layout, written almost entirely in dialogue and includes pieces of biographies, historical texts, and letters, which Saunders gathered, and in some cases created himself. It has been described as "utterly original" work and "deeply moving".

Lola Young, the chair of judges, also described the novel as “an extraordinary piece of work.” She admitted that although she found the layout challenging, she was captivated by the unique work. “

The challenge is actually part of its uniqueness. It is almost saying, ‘I dare you to engage with this kind of story, in this kind of way.’ It is incredibly rewarding.”

Fellow author Hari Kunzru praised Lincoln in the Bardo in a review for the Guardian, as “a tale of great formal daring”, adding “[It] stands head and shoulders above most contemporary fiction, showing a writer who is expanding his universe outwards, and who clearly has many more pleasures to offer his readers.”

In an interview, Saunders’ said he was inspired by the judges acceptance of such a difficult 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.”

Saunders is the second American in a row to be awarded the Booker prize, following Paul Beatty’s win last year with his novel ‘The Sellout'.  This win falls four years after changes to the rules were made, allowing writers of any nationality writing in English and published in the UK to take part.  This new eligibility rule has however faced fierce criticism, with critics complaining that the prize has become ‘Americanized’.

“We don’t look at the nationality of the writer,” Ms. Young said. “We’re solely concerned with the book, with what that book is telling us.”

Other finalists for the prize include Paul Auster, with his novel ‘4321’, a narrative which tells a Jewish boy’s coming-of-age story in four different versions; Fiona Mozley with her debut novel 'Elmet', and Mohsin Hamid, nominated for 'Exis West'.