Rings of Saturn – WG Sebald

‘A walking tour through the landscapes of the past, in the company of the exiled and the departed’ might have seemed an unusual choice for the bookgroup but this curious mix of memoir, fiction and meditation on writing also becomes ‘an essay for the dispossessed’ which would resonate with many gay readers. Added to that, Helen Finch in her groundbreaking book ‘Sebald’s Bachelors’ points to the queer themes within Sebald’s writing and is most obvious here in the preponderance of homosexual and homosocial histories of lives lived on the margins, on the edge of things.

The reading group certainly picked up on these themes often tied up with the concept of the single man, and, anti-semitism. However, responses form the group were as varied and the subjects covered in the book itself; ‘the book reminded me of fractals’, ‘left me feeling wistful’, ‘unsure of the motive for the writing’, ‘ sense of decay and transience’, ‘I felt hope as if in anticipation of something’. A few readers did not like the blurring of truth and fiction in this way and suspected of him of using this technique to tie things up too neatly.

Like many reviewers, the group also saw some common ground with the writings of Bruce Chatwin, indeed, the two writers, when alive, were often asked to comment on each other’s writing concerns.

There were moments of humour, high camp almost, e.g. the fish and chip supper taken by the narrator in his hotel in Lowestoft. But again and again the group came back to theme of the outsider, be that the Jewish experience or the gay experience in Europe in recent centuries.

The majority of the group did find much of the book mournful but others found it’s sense of transience and entropy strangely uplifting,

PB-C