After having read W. G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, I decided to plunge into another one of his novels – The Rings of Saturn. Only, it is not a novel per se. Actually, I am not really too sure as to what it is. However, I can say with definite honesty that I truly did enjoy it. From what I could gather, the author took a walking tour of the eastern coast of England and wrote down his experiences that became The Rings of Saturn. Yet, the narrator in the book is both Sebald and not so all we have are recorded words and photographs to enhance this “tale”. As with Austerlitz, Sebald’s words read like a dream sequence that is easy to follow if you do not rush it.
The “novel” tells of the narrator’s experiences while taking the tour and along the way, he meets a colourful cast of characters as well as visits historical places that lead his mind to other related places and events. Everything is connected in the narrator’s mind and everything has a place, even if that place is one time and short lived. He tells of a man who is creating the Temple in Jerusalem with matchsticks, owners of manors long forgotten in British history, the history of silk and the wars fought over the worms, and other such eccentric events, places and people. This is a book that makes no sense and in doing so, makes such perfect sense.
I did not know what to expect while reading this book and in doing so, kept my mind open to what the narrator was trying to show to the readers. Too much thought in reading the cross pollination of history within the stories would lose many readers. I found myself re-reading certain pages in making sure that I had read them correctly, or looking up some of the people and events on my computer just to have a better grasp on them, like the life of Roger Casement, or asking a friend about the mating habits of silkworms. I could tell that the narrator took great pains to write about what he experienced during the tour as well as his thoughts that added many other links.
The Rings of Saturn is not beach reading nor is it light reading, yet do not let that dissuade you from reading this work. It is meant to be read, questioned then read again if you have time. In fact, if you do read this novel, send me an email and let me know what you thought of it.