Why Read Sebald?

He is utterly despairing, particularly in The Rings of Saturn. It’s terrible, beautiful, and there’s no hope.         

— Ali Smith

W.G. Sebald’s annotations to Michael Hulse’s draft translation of the ‘Conrad chapter’ (Part V) of Die Ringe des Saturn.
(From Saturn’s Moons)

I’ve been here before, at my desk, with all the books by W.G Sebald (which unfortunately isn’t that many) in front of me. My plan is to (re)read The Rings of Saturn. Did I read it before? Sort of. But the thing is; this book is much too complex for only one reading. And being 7 years older than when I first sought it out, I am not the same reader.

The Rings of Saturn – a short summary:

The Rings of Saturn is a journal of a walking tour of eastern England in which the narrator—who at times appears to be Sebald himself—records his impressions and his dreams. Like much of Sebald’s other work, the borders between illusion and reality, fact and fiction, and dreams and life are porous and permeable. The novel does not contain a specific plot that can be followed from beginning to end. Much like Joyce’s Ulysses or Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925), The Rings of Saturn records the narrator’s thoughts in stream-of-consciousness-like fashion as he moves from one topic to another, with various images or events sending him into associative reveries.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. This is one of my favourite books. Loved Smith’s quote 🙂

    1. Sigrun says:

      Somehow I imagined I would have to struggle my way through the text, but at the moment I’m dancing along the lines … 🙂 Such incredibly wonderful writing! Such a rich landscape of history, memory and visual sensations.

  2. This is one of those books that I can say indubitably changed me as a writer and also as a person. One of my first blog posts was on TRoS, and the impression it left on me. It’s message is timely, evocative, and thought provoking. It’s a shame Sebald died too soon. I’m always happy to read what others think about his writing.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Dear Cheryl, I believe this is one of those rare books one can read and re-read as long as one is capable of reading … and still find something new in every reading.
      It’s strange how a text so rich in digressions actually manage to open up room for the reader as participant & interlocutor.

      1. Yes, and unlike many books/authors that use digressions as mere (useless) digressions, Sebald’s meanderings always point back (or connect forward) to something really important in the text. I think he was a genius.

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