When W G Sebald died in a car accident in 2001, after publishing just four books, his readers felt both a huge sense of loss, and also a sense of irony, that such a melancholic, perceptive writer should have come to an end quite so synchronistic with his writings. It seemed so appropriate that his disjointed, somehow incomplete literary wanderings should come to an abrupt end, leaving so many questions hanging in the wind. All great works of literature either found a genre or dissolve one (Walter Benjamin, quoted in the book under review), and Sebald's books are quite unique, baring a resemblance to nothing which has gone before, and almost certainly being followed by no book quite like them. Sebald creates thoughts in us which are entirely our own, as though discovering something which has always been there, but unrecognised until the convoluted prose of Sebald has penetrated into out own depths to release something precious from its swirling eddies.
For those who still hunger after more Sebald, this book fits the bill very well. A collection of essays and interviews with Sebald, it fills in many gaps, offering assistance to those who ask the questions:
- Are these novels or reflective travelogues? - Are the characters Sebald meets real or imagined (or perhaps composite)? - Who is the narrator? - What is the meaning of the photographs? - Are the photographs genuine illustrations of the events in the books? - What is the relationship of the books to the Holocaust?
Sebald gave several in-depth interviews, the transcriptions of which are included in this book, and he seemed quite happy to talk about his work, its meaning and its influences. It also includes material on the political background to his works, the "collective amnesia" of Germany after World War II, and also the controversy Sebald stirred up when writing and talking about the allied bombing campaigns over German cities. In this book you will read much about his personal philosophy and motivations and this helps the reader understand the works themselves. Some of the essays show us that Sebald was not "perfect" but also had his flaws and it is helpful to see these in the broader context provided.
Sebald is above all, a writer who initiates a creative process within the reader, such that the book becomes something personal, with an interpretation unique to himself. Many people find that when finishing a Sebald book, they have a great inclination to go back to the beginning and start again. Certainly the books get read and re-read, and have a special space on the bookshelf where others get lost among the crowd of other volumes. This book is a highly useful addition to literature about Sebald and for those who would really rather have a new novel by Sebald himself, it is not a bad second-best.
This book of interviews and essays complements Sebald's work really well. It is not just an advertising/publishing piece of marketing but it examines different aspects of his work, and not always in a complimentary way. As an admirer of Sebald, I can recommend the book to people who have already read at least some of his works. It isn't an introduction to him, rather an afterword to his life's work.
I have yet to finish this book. It is a good read for those who have read a lot of W G Sebald as the interviews put a little more definition to the background of story and writer. I found the transcriptions of interviews with the writer enjoyable as I did the introduction. One or two of those critiquing Sebald were, I felt, in a personal competition to be more clever than the author. I would recommend this book
Useful collection of interviews and reviews giving a good insight into Max Sebald, helping put his works into context. Interesting range of contributors bringing differing and thought-provoking perspectives.
If you have read even just one of Sabald's works this book is a worthwhile read, revealing the degree of "reality" in his novels and putting the correct distance between Sebald the author and the nameless narrator.