Becoming lost

The Rings of Saturn follows a Sebald-like narrator as he walks along England’s eastern coast, letting his mind wander along with his feet. The prose follows the narrator’s digressions from each place and idea to the next, moving freely in time and space. 

Here is a good example of Sebald at work:

… for Diderot there was nothing more satisfying to the human mind than the neat Dutch towns with their straight, tree-lined canals, exemplary in every respect. Settlement succeeded settlement just as if they had been conjured up overnight by the hand of an artist in accordance with some carefully worked-out plan, wrote Diderot, and even in the heart of the largest of them one still felt one was in the country. The Hague, at the time with a population of about forty thousand, he felt was the loveliest village on earth, (…) It was not easy to appreciate these observation as I walked along Parkstraat towards Scheveningen. (…) Perhaps I had gone the wrong way, (…) I walked for a long time in the shadow of tall apartment blocks, as if at the bottom of a ravine. When at last I reached the beach I was so tired I lay down and slept till the afternoon. I heard the surge of the sea, and, half dreaming, understood every word of Dutch and for the first time in my life believed I had arrived, and was home. Even when I awoke it seemed to me for a moment that my people were resting all around me as we made our way across the desert.

The Rings of Saturn (pp 84-85)

From Diderot and the 16th century Dutch townscape, via the misery of failed contemporary urban-planning, the narrator’s thoughts meanders on, ending up in … Exodus?!

All this achieved within half a page, a continuous paragraph, of the book. To read Sebald is one thing, to comprehend what he is actually saying – something altogether different …

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