Lincoln in the Bardo

“Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now we must lose them.”

In honor of the Man Booker Prize winner being announced yesterday, and also because I am seriously lagging on my reading list so I can’t write about the winner since I haven’t read it yet, I decided to write about last year’s winner.

Last year, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo took the grand prize as the Man Booker Book of the Year.  Although it’s been sitting on my shelf since it won last October, I just managed to finish it yesterday – right on time to order the 2018 winner, Anna Burn’s The Milkman.  I am glad that I was so late in reading Lincoln in the Bardo, however, because October was the perfect month to read it:  the novel takes place over the length of one long, solitary night in a graveyard.

Solitary because the novel’s focus is on a single living character, Abraham Lincoln, and his lonely midnight sojourn to his young son’s grave.  Lincoln’s internal dialogue bombards the reader with tangible, raw waves of emotions.  Emotions that are vivid and familiar because they are emotions that we all have suffered: loss, grief, hopelessness, anger, regret…

Amplifying the palpable sense of loss is Saunders’ brilliant juxtaposition of Lincoln’s solitary grieving with a cacophony of voices: both historical and fictional, but all long dead.  Like us, these bodiless voices have experienced the emotions manifesting in Lincoln, and like us, they can act only as mere bystanders to his grief.  Both we and the voices are confined by time and space to the memory of our own losses and grief.

As the story matures, however, the reader – and the voices – come to realize that despite our seemingly individualized experiences, everyone must come to terms with death and accept that those who we love will eventually die.  And it is through this collective realization – and the realization that it is the love that makes life worth it, even with the eventual loss – that the voices in our book are able to find release and move on.

 

A Reprieve From Scotland: The Man Booker Dozen

Putting a pause in my Scotland Posts (I promise, I only have a couple more of those), the Man Booker Long List (or “Man Booker Dozen”) was announced last week.  The Man Booker prize is given to the “best novel,” written in English and published in the U.K. (a semi recent change of the Rules – previously, the authors had to be from the commonwealth) of the year.

I try to read the winner each year, but this year, I have decided to attempt to read the long-list before the short list is released on September 20th.  As I went to Amazon to order the books, however, some of them have yet to be released, at least in the U.S.  So my goal has been made easier (thank goodness, as I have a small pile of books sitting on my bedside table, and that pile has been slowly growing).

According to the Man Booker website, this year’s longlist include several dystopian books, giving this year’s list a theme of “a world on the brink.”  Additionally, many explore social class, gender, and family.

And so, without more, the “Man Booker Dozen” are:

Belinda Bauer (UK), Snap (Bantam Press): a crime novel about a mother going missing, and the aftermath of her disappearance on the family.

Anna Burns (UK), Milkman (Faber & Faber) (preorder only in the US): a novel that explores the consequences of corrupt political life on one’s domestic/family life.

Nick Drnaso (USA), Sabrina (Granta Books): the first ever graphic novel to be on the long list.  Another disappearance story line, but it is interwoven with how the 24-hour news cycle impacts our lives (a theme also explored by the 2003 Man Booker winner – Vernon God Little, and now, in my opinion, more relevant than ever).

Esi Edugyan (Canada), Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail) (preorder only in the US): a historical novel following an escaped slave on his road to freedom.

Guy Gunaratne (UK), In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press): a novel following friends and their interaction with urban life, focusing on the lives of the marginalized and oppressed.

Daisy Johnson (UK), Everything Under (Jonathan Cape): the story of an absentee mother trying to re-connect with her daughter and of the language they had invented together before the mother left.

Rachel Kushner (USA), The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape): a novel about incarceration in America.  This novel explores the criminal justice system, as well as gender, class, and the failure of the American Dream.

Sophie Mackintosh (Wales, UK), The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton): likened to the Handmaiden’s Tale, this novel explores the story of a mother and three girls who are kept on an island by the father – until one day the father leaves, and the women are left to survive on their own.

Michael Ondaatje (Canada), Warlight (Jonathan Cape): Ondaatje was just awarded the Golden Man Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient (which has also been turned into an academy award wining film, by the same name; starring Ralph Fiennes, may be better known as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films).  This novel, however, follows two children after the end of World War II and their mysterious caretaker.

Richard Powers (USA), The Overstory (Willian Heinemann)The Overstory is a story of the environment.  Following nine very different individuals, the novel eventually brings them together as each tries to save the final few trees left in the world.  This novel explores global warming, and its effects on all classes, genders, and races.

Robin Robertson (Scotland, UK), The Long Take (Picador)The Long Take is actually a novel in verse form.  It follows a man suffering from PTSD, and his attempt to cope with live after war.

Sally Rooney (Ireland), Normal People (Faber & Faber) (preorder only in the US): this novel looks at the intersection between classes through the lens of children.  A young middle class girl befriends her parents’ house cleaner’s son.  The story watches them grow up in two distinct social circles while trying to maintain their connection.

Donal Ryan (Ireland), From a Low and Quiet Sea (Doubleday Ireland): Separated into four parts – the first three sections tell the story of three men.  The first, a man deciding whether to flee Syria with his family.  The second, a brokenhearted bus-driver in Ireland. And, lastly, a manipulator searching for forgiveness.  The final sections brings all three together in their search for home and acceptance.

This year’s judges include: Kwame Anthony Appiah (Chair); Val McDermid; Leo Robson; Jacqueline Rose; and Leanne Shapton.

I am still waiting on a couple of the books to get to my house, but, as some of them have arrived, let the reading begin!

From Ladies of the Lake To Loch Storr Monsters

“The Trossachs are often visited by persons of taste, who are desirous of seeing nature in her rudest and most unpolished state.” – Callander parish minister Dr. Robertson (1791).

The next stop on our visit was The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scotland’s first National Park, established in 2002. (Loch is Scotland’s word for lake.)  The Trossachs has inspired many a poem, including several by William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, Samuel Coleridge, and Sir Walter Scott.  In fact, Sir Walter Scott’s best selling work, Lady of the Lake, is set in and around Loch Katrine.  Loch Katrine also appears in Jules Verne’s The Underground City.

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The Trossachs is home to allegedly one of the most haunted places in Scotland – the Drover’s Inn.

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If you are into ghosts, click here to read about all the ghost sightings that have been reported (be wary of the video though – it has a trick at the end).  My mom – a major ghost/supernatural believer and avid ghost/bigfoot show watcher – wanted us to do a EVP session (still not sure what that means), but instead of riling the ghosts, we simply had a beer and made sure to be on our way long before nightfall.

Also along our driving tour, we stopped to see the Glencoe Valley, home to mountains known as the “Three Sisters.”

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Afterwards, we stopped at Glenfinnan.  Glenfinnan is known for two very different teenagers: Harry Potter and the Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Well known now as the home to the viaduct that appears in the Harry Potter movies (see picture below), Glenfinnan has a tragic past.  It was here that the Bonnie Prince Charlie first raised his father’s standard.  The monument you see in the pictures below is a memorial for the Highlanders that lost their lives because they supported the Bonnie Prince.  If you are at all interested in the Prince’s claim to the British throne, click here.

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Finally, we visited the Isle of Skye.  Unfortunately, we had terrible weather – at one point, I truly thought I might be blown off the side of a mountain.  So my pictures aren’t what they could have been – as I was trying to protect my camera from the rain – but even in the rain, Scotland is hauntingly beautiful.

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At the end of our climb, my best friend – who is my forever travel partner – claimed she had a “loch” in her boot, thereby proclaiming the creation of Loch Storr, and after spending hours in the downpour and wind, we were its monsters.