Vertigo (Harvill Panther) Paperback – 21 Sep 2000
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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 spell.it 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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Top Customer Reviews
'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 (...Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I like W G Sebald and this is one of the best novels of him; I join it with pleasure into my library; well delivered as it is, too ....Y.-P. H.Published on 2 Mar. 2013 by Hayrynen Yrjo-paavo
This book took me on a journey which seemed to hang between place and time by evocative descriptions of stops on a journey interspersed with stories and memories from the past. Read morePublished on 4 Feb. 2012 by Lorna M. Hill
This book, Sebald's first, was published in 1990. It was translated into English in 1999, in the wake of the critical success of works like The Emigrants and The Rings of... Read morePublished on 29 Jan. 2012 by Reader in Tokyo
Why must self-indulgent, navel-gazing, introspective meanderings be called deep. A journey into memory - PAH. It's drivel!Published on 29 Oct. 2010 by adrian fleming