I didn't know what the "Bardo" means until my wife, an admirer of Buddhism, explained it to me. At the beginning, I was a little confused. I was thinking: "What's with these two characters talking nonsense?" Little by little, I started understanding their histories, as well as the fact that they are the spirits, souls or whatever of dead guys, roaming around in and over a cemetery, telling us the stories of the other inmates and telling us how it is once you cross to the other side. Then Willie, or at least Willie's body and spirit, appeared and Lincoln showed up to mourn his son and it all started to make sense. The intermingling of the citations, both real and apocryphal, with the images from the cemetery, mixed to produce a strong reflection on love, death, missed opportunities, the longing for a second chance, and what may become of us once dead.
One criticism I have is that the voices -Vollman's, Bevin's and the Reverend's - aren't distinct enough to recognize them without checking who's speaking, but on the whole I tended to like the three of them.
I don't think LitB can be accomodated in any easy "genre": it is certainly not historical novel (although, as we have discussed, contains elements of it), not magical realism, not pure fantasy.
: Yes, I thought of the Three Musketeers, too,
: as well as War and Peace, Ragtime, Gore
: Vidal's multi-volume saga that includes both
: Burr and Lincoln, and of course, Wolf Hall.
: Some of these (Wolf Hall and Burr) adhere
: closely to historical fact, as I understand
: it. Some, like Ragtime, play "fast and
: loose" with their historical
: What sets LitB apart is the use of (some)
: real historical citations, often
: first-person accounts. Saunders
: accomplishes a couple of different, even
: contrasting things this way. He establishes
: his verisimilitude, which is indeed
: impressive, while also calling into question
: the accuracy of first-hand accounts (most
: amusingly with the moon). Apparently the
: nonfiction "oral history" of Edie
: Sedgwick also features direct contradictions
: in first-hand accounts, which Saunders cited
: as an inspiration. I agree that the
: historical sections are indeed
: "superb." What did you two think
: of the spirits? (It has been pointed out
: that they are not really "ghosts"
: since no living person ever sees them.)
: --Previous Message--
: I finished yesterday, so you two can go
: with spoilers. I liked the book, and from
: what I've been reading of your postings I
: see that the first discussion is about the
: citations, real and invented, and then we
: will move on to the "ghost" part.
: Let me add my two cents to this discussion:
: as you were exchanging your thoughts on
: "history", "novel" and
: the space in between, usually called
: "non-fiction novel" (as "In
: Cold Blood"), I was reminded very much
: of Alexandre Dumas. I guess we can all agree
: that by the time Dumas wrote (the middle of
: the XIX Century), the "pure",
: fictional novel had been solidly
: established. However, Dumas made free use of
: true historical events and characters and
: intermingled them with the stories of his
: "purely" fictional characters.
: Now, there is a qualification to this last
: assertion: there WAS a real captain of
: musketeers called D'Artagnan, and his
: memoirs are extant, you can buy them and
: read them.
: Now, Dumas didn't expect his reasders to
: believe that what he told was
: "history", but perhaps he expected
: them to believe that his portrayal of
: historical characters was, at least,
: seriously debatable, that is, subject to
: opinion, but not "false":
: Richelieu would have been revered by some
: people and reviled by others, but no one
: would deny that he was a cunning, able
: statesman, a loyal ally and a fearsome foe.
: The same with Mazarino: a cowardly miser, or
: the saviour of the monarchy during the
: infancy of Louis XIV, but certainly a lesser
: figure than Richelieu. I could go on, but my
: point is that there IS something that is not
: history not purely fiction (remember Hilary
: Mantel's saga about Thomas Cromwell).
: Since you can not pierce the minds of
: historical characters beyond, say their
: letters, the novelist allows him/herself to
: imagine their intimate thoughts and emotions
: to try to make sense of their actions.
: I think LitB is a superb example of this
: effort, always conscious of memory's
: failings and the unavoidable opposition of
: points of view. Lincoln, too, is revered by
: some and reviled by others, and the
: circumstances attending Willie's death would
: have to be necessarily polemical.
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