W.G. Sebald, an Anglo-German novelist, died in 2001 in a car crash after suffering a heart attack behind the wheel. His career was brief. A life-long academic, he published his first novel at the age of 44 and was translated into English five years before his death at 57. Yet he produced a handful of critical and commercial successes, some lauded as masterpieces, leaving behind a legacy most any writer would envy.
Sebald’s unique ability to merge multiple genres—fiction, travel, memoir, biography—and evade categorisation won him admirers from around the literary world. There was no shortage of chatter linking him to the Nobel prize before his death.
Perhaps the novel most emblematic of Sebald’s style is the peripatetic “The Rings of Saturn”. Published in German in 1995 and English in 1998, it is nominally the story of a man on a walk along the south-eastern coast of England—a walk so inimical to mind and body it sends the hero to the hospital, from where he recounts his experience. The book lacks a traditional plot and instead concentrates on the narrator’s encounters with place and memory. Ruminating on topics as varied as African colonialism, Thomas Browne, Nazi savagery and 17th-century sea battles, the novel’s present exists only in so much as it evokes the past. It has inspired a new documentary by Grant Gee called “Patience (After Sebald)”, which had its American premiere on October 2nd at the New York Film Festival.
Shot over eight days in the spring of 2010, Gee’s film retraces the steps detailed in the book. Though bereft of Sebald’s erudite tone, it provides stark imagery and intelligent commentary from an array of writers and intellectuals, including Rick Moody and Andrew Motion. read more »