Part of a podcast series

The Wheeler Centre

View all episodes in this series

Strange Here: George Saunders

Listen to Strange Here: George Saunders

If we were going to try to write a novel about right now, what’s the equivalent of a god’s-eye-view of right now? I think it’s … every thought going on right now, presented simultaneously.’

American writer George Saunders is one of the world’s most surreal – and most empathic – eyewitnesses to modern life. But quixotic? Not so much. In his writing, he’s generous with his subjects: offering them dignity where consumerism and politics deny it. It’s absurd and heart-wrenching stuff; often farcical, with echoes of despair.

Best known until now for his short story collections (Tenth of DecemberPastoralia) and collected essays (The Braindead Megaphone), Saunders has also written novellas, children’s books, and now, a novel – or something close to it, anyway. Lincoln in the Bardo defies comparison. Born from a kernel of history (Abraham Lincoln’s mourning for his dead son), the book hurls a giddy net of voices into the twilight between life and death, ruminating on love that – like all love – must end.

Having moved from field geophysicist to doorman, roofer and slaughterhouse worker before arriving at writing, Saunders himself is as shape-shifting as his writing. For the first time in Australia, he talks to Don Watson about his hyper-real prose, his simple, methodical approaches to writing, and his redoubled commitment to the profundity of art.

Photo of George Saunders with Don Watson

George Saunders speaks with Don Watson at Northcote Town Hall — Photo: Jon Tjhia

The Wheeler Centre

Subscribe to the Wheeler Centre's podcast to hear full recordings of our talks – featuring the best in books, writing and ideas.