A beautiful mystery

W. G. SebaldThere’s a great piece on the legacy of W.G. Sebald in today’s Guardian.

Sebald came to my attention about six years ago, when a friend bought me a copy of The Rings of Saturn for my birthday. I thought that I’d been given a sci-fi novel until reading the blurb on the inside cover. This left me wondering how the hell the story of a ‘journey on foot through coastal East Anglia’ might possibly be of interest to me.

I remember taking it on holiday with me and reading it while sunning myself on the Aegean. As the turquoise sea lapped at my feet, I was transported to the grey mists and flat landscapes of Eastern England. After the initial Kafkaesque homage to his time in hospital, I followed the author’s journey’s through landscape, time and  trauma via such strange stopping points as Herring fishing in the North (German) Sea to an exploration of the spread of sericulture (silk-making) from China.

All was metaphor and psychogeography. He was walking through his own painful history as well as that of his home country and its inability to reconcile itself with its past. But none of these things were apparent on the journey, only revealing themselves in my own troubled pauses in between chapters; I simply didn’t know what I was reading or how to assimilate what was being revealed. I read the book again a few years later on my MA course and coming to it the second time was no easier. I also read Austerlitz and a ‘critical companion’ volume to his works in the hope of aiding my comprehension, but, Sebald was still a beautiful mystery to me.

And I think that is the way that I want him to stay.

I’ve got Vertigo and The Emigrants on my shelf and I’ve not gotten around to reading them yet. Apparently they form a trilogy with The Rings of Saturn, but I’m still a little intimidated by their presence and what opening them might bring.