Saturday, April 12, 2014

Historical Fiction: Lincoln by Gore Vidal

Publisher: Random House
Date: 1984
Format: hardback
Source: purchased used
Read: for Historical Novels class
Pages: 657
Reading time: about a week

From GoodReads: Lincoln opens early on a frozen winter morning in 1861, when President-elect Abraham Lincoln slips into Washington, flanked by two bodyguards. The future president is in disguise, for there's talk of a plot to murder him. During the next four years there will be numerous plots to murder this man who has sworn to unite a disintegrating nation. Isolated in a ramshackle White House in the center of a proslavery city, Lincoln presides over a fragmenting government as Lee's armies beat at the gates. In this profoundly moving novel, a work of epic proportions & intense human sympathy, Lincoln is observed by his loved ones & his rivals. The cast of characters is almost Dickensian: politicians, generals, White House aides, newspapermen, Northern & Southern conspirators, amiably evil bankers & a wife slowly going mad. Vidal's portrait of the president is at once intimate & monumental, stark & complex, drawn with the wit, grace & authority of one of the great historical novelists.

My review: I've never before disliked a novel that's this good. It seems paradoxical, I know, but it's true. Vidal's novel is like a fictional form of the history of the Lincoln administration. It's super-well-researched and basically a run-down of all the political and social shenanigans in Washington during the Civil War. Pretty epic in scope, right? It's like reading a history book, just with extra imagined dialogue and characterizations.

My issue: I don't like politics. It's booooring. So reading this was difficult, because it's pretty much all political dialogue. Gag. Great history, yes, but long and not personally interesting. The characterization of Lincoln, though, is intriguing. We see into the personal thoughts and motives of the rest of the characters, but Lincoln remains an intentionally closed book. The mystery surrounding who he really was is retained, even furthered through the novel. It's by far the most interesting part of the book. My last issue: the pacing is pretty much all the same. Social dialogue, major battles, Lincoln's assassination? All are discussed in basically the same way. It makes the reading even more sloggish than politics already is.

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