Monday, 2 April 2012

Book Review - The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald

The Rings of Saturn is another one of those novels that has been sitting on my shelf ever since enrolling in a particular class at university and then transferring out of it. I have picked it up a number of times, opened it at a random page to get a feel for the style of writing and then put it down again having found it to be too dry.

As it turns out, it's not the sort of book that you can just pick up and open it at a random page and be grabbed by it because that just wouldn't make sense.

The Rings of Saturn is a meandering memo of the author's walking tour through East Anglia (I **think** that's the correct name for the coastal country in the south east of England). Normally one wouldn't consider notes on a walk to be worthy of an entire novel, but the author takes the time to research local history of each place he visits and relays that to us. I presume it is a work of non-fiction, but I haven't bothered verifying the "facts" found in the novel. I would say that many of them are anecdotal and based on local knowledge provided by people he met along the way, so much would not be tracable. But fiction or non-fiction, it makes for quite an interesting read!

Within the text are stories about the large manor houses he visits on his walking tour; abandoned military outposts; towns that have moved as a result of coastal erosion; quirky and occasionally historically important characters who once lived in the towns; certain buildings (such as public baths), the reason for their being (popularity with high society) and the subsequent degredation of the town as times changed; the rise and fall of natural forests and planted gardens; sericulture (silk production) in China and then Europe; and even the childhood of Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of  Darkness, rates a mention because of his roundabout connection to the area.

The chapters are manageably short and seperate enough to be able to put the book down, but interesting enough to want to keep going for another bite-sized story. I would rate it as a good book to read on the train, or if you don't have a great deal of time to read large slabs of text. The only thing that fails it is its lack of paragraphs - once you dive into a chapter, there are very few breaks. This is one of the better unread books that were sitting around my room, and one that I will quite likely read again.

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