It is always a delight to discover another Sebald. Even though I wasn't really aware of the writers/artists chosen in these essays the sheer beauty of his writing style make you want to read on and discover more.
Physics buffs have A Brief History of Time; philosophy fans Heidegger, Kant and Wittgenstein; mathematicians a wealth of books, many abstruse and technical, especially in those far-flung regions where numbers merge into mysticism. On a similarly sophisticated level, for us literary bods there is W.G.Sebald, author of the superb The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz (among others), a man whose death at too young an age (57) in a motor accident in 2001 near Norwich, where he lectured at the university, deprived us of a stunning talent deserving of the Nobel prize. Academic colleague Jo Catling has collated and translated this collection of six essays on writers, and a painter, and they are all pearls. I hadn't heard of four of the people here but all the accounts are insightful and beautifully written (and translated), especially those touching Rousseau and Robert Walser, author of the astounding Jakob von Gunten. Wallace Stevens's The Poem That Took The Place of a Mountain reveals the nature of the voyage Sebald had undertaken, arriving at the place "Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,/Recognise his unique and solitary home." Very few get there; Sebald did.
With a penchant for the strange and eccentric European writers who loved the outdoors this is a posthumous collection of 'travel' essays by the late W.G.Sebald. His lilting, old fashioned prose is delectable and infectious. Peppered with curious details and fascinating characterisations these essays are a sheer pleasure to read and encompass the spirit of the romantic visionary alone in the landscape, the poetic in exile, and the spirit of wanderlust. Unlike his novels, which weave intricate fictional matrixes of possible/impossible biographical data around characters that are doppelgangers of Sebald himself, this book focuses on specific writers and their experience of the outdoors in different centuries and circumstances. Of course, Sebald introduces his familiar peculiarities into each segment of the book, revealing the quirky details about each writer's plight as he goes on with tantalising aplomb. Sebald himself revisits many of the sites and locations pertinent to the writer's lives he is describing and this adds a certain pathos to the book, which is both illuminating and colourful. The illustrations make this a beautiful book to own.
I have been a fan of Sebald's work for a few years now, having starting with his "Rings of Saturn" at the suggestion of a wise friend. No one else writes like Sebald. No one else captures that sense of displacement, of living in the world and yet not quite belonging anywhere in it, the way that he does. When I heard that there was a new book coming out, I couldn't believe it. I logged onto Amazon.us (I'm an American) and was saddened to find that "A Place in the Country" wouldn't be released in the U.S. until February 2014! Knowing it was already out in the U.K., I went to Amazon.uk and within days, the book was in my hands. Wonderful essays about the writers (and one artist) who influenced Sebald's work. It's always a great gift to discover that a favorite author, who has passed, has one more manuscript out there.
I first encountered Sebald’s wonderful rhythmic prose in The Rings of Saturn. This book is an account of six writers or artists who inspired him.
If anything, this book is more hypnotic and engaging than even the ‘The Rings of Saturn’. Here the prose (or, to be honest the translation of the original German prose) is so wonderfully complex, yet so readable, that it did not really matter that I had no prior experience of any the six artists.
There seems to be a theme of social disconnection in the six, but a disconnection that resulted in a longing for place. This could in some way help to explain Sebald’s own fascination with the sense of place that shines through in The Rings of Saturn.
If you wish to read a book that shows just how artful non-fiction can be, then I would recommend this book.