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Vertigo (Harvill Panther) Paperback – 21 Sep 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (21 Sept. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860467342
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860467349
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.8 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,741,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

It is not often that books receive the universal critical acclaim with which W G Sebald's work in English translation has been met. The Rings of Saturn, in particular, achieved the sort of plaudits which would enable most writers to die happy. Sebald's limpid prose is literally entrancing and has encouraged a serious, passionate and aesthetic response. His unique style was first employed in Vertigo, published in the original German in 1990 and now available in English. As in The Emigrants, Vertigo interweaves four narratives that develop an elegiac evocation of a transcendent theme--which, in this case, is that of memory. Beginning with Marie Henri Beyle (Stendhal), and his painful and unreliable recollections of the military campaign during which his rites of passage were won, the narrative elegantly traverses Sebald's own voyages through Italy. It journeys into the intersection of temporal and personal perspectives which is the stuff of all interpretations, both past and present.

As the book develops, it returns to the same locations: Milan, Verona, Venice and the Alps. In the course of this fractured meandering, the reader lives with a haunted Franz Kafka and admires the serene beauty of the stars above Lake Garda, before returning to Sebald's home in the Bavarian Alps, where the author confronts his childhood memories.

Of all Sebald's works, his narrative style is perhaps best suited to the subject-matter of this book, for it is precisely the distorted and unfathomable essence of memory that his stumbling journey seeks to unravel. Thus in Vertigo, Sebald's integration of personal, historical and fictional perspectives, combined with the nature of his physical exploration, creates a vivid and lasting impression of the imaginative confusion that is inherent in any thought, recollection or projection. This style of writing requires deep integrity and it is impossible not to develop a picture of a deeply sensitive mind, which is aware of the very nature of its conceits and deceptions. "What is it that undoes a writer?", asks Sebald, when thinking of Stendhal. The question weighs over the rest of the book and indeed over much of Sebald's work.

In The Rings of Saturn he goes some way towards producing an answer, not just to this but indeed to the motivation of Vertigo as a whole:

"The fact is that writing is the only way in which I am able to cope with the memories which overwhelm me so frequently and unexpectedly. If they remained locked away, they would become heavier and heavier as time went on, so that in the end I would succumb under their mounting weight."
--Toby Green


"Nothing like Vertigo is likely to be encountered in the course of one's regular reading. One emerges from it shaken, seduced, and deeply impressed" (Anita Brookner Spectator)

"Where has one heard in English a voice of such confidence and precision, so direct in its expression of feeling, yet so respectfully devoted to "the real"?" (Susan Sontag Times Literary Supplement)

"Possessed of a richness and strangeness that would put most other writers to shame. Sebald's journey into himself and his past is compelling, puzzling, unique" (The Times)

"As a reader, you find his prose wrapping itself, wraith-like, round your imagination, casting a baffling and indefinable works triumphantly well. The fact that W.G. Sebald chooses to tease, dazzle and mystify should not blind us to the fact that he does the one thing that every novelist should do: he entertains, provokes, stimulates and inspires" (Robert McCrum Observer) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
'Vertigo' is well titled. There is a constant feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty in the narrative. There is suspense, but the narrator's combination of ultrasensivity and naivety is often comic. In the main section, 'All'estero', Sebald retraces Kafka's journey to the Italian Lakes in 1913. On a local bus, he sees twin boys who look exactly like Kafka. (It should be noted that Sebald is given to imagining present-day people to be historical figures.) He tries to explain his excitement at this coincidence to the boys' parents and asks them to send him a photo of the boys to his address in England. The boys gigle and the parents frown. Belatedly, Sebald realises that the parents think he is a pederast and hurriedly gets off at the next stop. Or in Verona where he eats alone in a dreadful pizzeria and is suddenly overcome with terror when he sees from the bill that the propietor is Sr Cadavero. At this point Sebald overhears him telling someone on the phone that 'hell is at the gates'. He flees. There is something of Kafka in these incidents. But M. Hulot is not far away either. In the last section of the book, Sebald describes his return to W., his home village in the Allgau,just across the border from Tyrol. Present experiences mingle with childhood memories. People, places, and incidents are unerringly recalled and placed. The mood here is dark, the season winter, and the lonely wanderer of Schubert's 'Winterreise' also comes to mind. The richness of allusion is typical of Sebald's work. The writing is clear, readable, and totally compelling. It's impossible to sum up Sebald's work - he's too much of an original for that - but his is a voice which is worth attending to.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book immediately upon finishing 'Rings of Saturn', and the slight doubt I might have had if 'Vertigo' would be of the same (dizzyingly high) level was immediately dispelled. As with 'Rings of Saturn', this is yet another unique book from an author with a unique voice.

'Vertigo' is subdivided into 4 chapters:
- 'Beyle, or Love is a Madness Most Discreet' traces the (inner) life, in bits and pieces, of Marie-Henri Beyle - whom we all know better as Stendhal - from 1800, when he crosses the Alps into Italy in Napoleon's army, until his death in 1842;
- 'All 'estero' (which could loosely be translated as 'going abroad' or 'being abroad') is an account of two of Sebald's own journeys: travelling in 1980 from England through Vienna to Venice and Verona, and a journey in 1987 in which he also visit the Lago di Garda-region;
- 'Dr. K Takes the Waters at Riva' is a fictionalised account of Kafka's stay there in 1913 where he gets acquainted with the illusive Undine;
- in the final chapter, 'Il ritorno in patria', which is set in 1987, Sebald visits - for the first time since his childhood - the tiny village of Wertach in Germany where he was born

What makes this book so unique then? Well, somehow it's hard to say! But in random order: the prose is quite simply mesmerizing (praise is due to Michael Hulse for a brilliant translation), and Sebald has a way with words describing the most everyday events in a quite astonishing vocabulary, making you look afresh at those 'ordinary' places, people, events... What to all of us would simply be waiters at a station buffet in an Italian town treating their customers with proverbial disdain, in Sebald's account are turned into 'some strange company of higher beings sitting in judgement (...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sebald is an amazing writer whose work is best tasted in "The Rings of Saturn" (NOT science fiction) and "The Emigrants". "Vertigo" actually preceded those two, though it was translated into English later. Not quite fiction, not quite non-fiction or essay--but something uniquely Sebaldian.
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By A Customer on 29 Sept. 2000
Format: Paperback
W G Sebald isn't the most cheery author around. His later work, The Rings Of Saturn, was a somewhat gloomy jaunt around Suffolk (an area of England not known for its Barbados-like jollity). This collection does not disappoint. Sebald (or his alter-ego, at any rate), travels here and there, and doesn't seem to find joy in any place he goes to. Italian restaurants, his home town, nowhere is safe - he's a kind of anti-Bill Bryson. But all the time, his muses on existence are beautifully written and are genuinely thought provoking. He has a wonderful tone (helped, I'm sure, by the translation), and is genuinly unique.
He can also make you laugh - the first four pages of the final section are so utterly miserable I had to stop myself laughing. You really begin to wonder if he's playing to the crowd. But he does it so well, that you can't help but forgive him.
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W.G. Sebald's weirdest book. Wow! It starts some time in the early 19th century and follows the exploits of a Napoleonic campaign through the alps to end up in the 1950's alpine terrain of Austria and finally in 1980's Italy searching through newspaper cuttings for obscure and eccentric advertisements. This is awonderfully playful, inventive, and strange book. Part collage and parallel universe, it takes a grip on the reader's attention and trawls you through many peculiar incidents and crams each page with a mixture of real and invented biographical details. The micro-universe described in the book is Sebald's own mischeivious tinkering with his alter ego or imagined/dreamed other self. He wants you to think it is partly a journal and a travelogue when in fact we know it is all made up - or is it?! It is a skillful work of factish fiction, perhaps peppered with funny and bizarre anecdotes and sub-stories to amaze and bewilder you. I read it whilst on vacation in Rome and found it oozed more metaphysical putty! As much of it takes places in Italy it is deeply evocative and compellingly descriptive in a way that makes you hungry for more detail and information. With all of Sebald's fictions you are immersed in a topsy turvy world of alternative realities prompted or suggested by a bus ticket, an old found photo, an overheard snippet of information. Sebald is the master of collectors, pouring his flair for the humdrum banalities of everyday life into a funnel of mystery and melancholic brooding. His dramas are small yet all of them are memorable because of their weirdness and the reader's knowledge that it is Sebald himself that he is essentially describing: warts and all. Its a deeply rewarding and magical book.Read more ›
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