Review: The Rings of Saturn

1 (out of 5) stars!

THE PLOT: Published in 1995, German author W.G. Sebald recounts his journey through the East Anglian countryside. At the time of his death, Sebald was being cited by literary critics as one of the greatest living authors and was tipped as a future Nobel Prize Winner. According to Wikipedia, The Rings of Saturn, is a novel presented as observations and recollections while travelling.

RATING: I feel bad because this book was a gift but I’ve got to honest; I have no idea why this book was written. There’s no theme to this journey through the Suffolk coast. The publisher’s note tries to call it a treatise on time and memory but I’m not buying it. Part of a special ‘Vintage Voyages’ collection, this edition has been printed alongside Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Green’s Travels with my Aunt. However, it has nothing in common with the lauded classics that it’s been grouped with. Sadly, it’s a one star from me.

GOOD BITS:  There are a few interesting bits of narrative, such as the description of Lowestoft’s decline from a thriving coastal port. However, these tend to become overrun with details and are exclusively written as third person reports: ‘someone I knew once lived in Lowestoft and he said etc….’. These second hand stories, such as the wealthy eccentric who left his estate to his housekeeper, were interesting but I couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t write a novel or collection of short stories from those perspectives.

NOT SO GOOD BITS:  The first chapter is incomprehensible. I personally think I have a good grasp of the English language, but the lack of paragraphs meant I could barely get through what is essentially a fifteen-page summary of 17th century doctor, Thomas Browne’s, philosophies. Likewise, the seven-page description of fishing for herring was too much for me to bear. OK, the description of fishing boats and how we have overfished the herring population is kind of interesting, but the physical portrait and diagram of a herring was not.

OVERALL: Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t understand why this was published in the first place, let alone republished in a special collection of vintage books. Personally, I think fame and literary aesthetic trumps common sense when it comes to the publishing world’s opinion of this book. It’s dense and purposeless, definitely not a novel but not quite a memoir, it’s just a man walking around Suffolk… I honestly can’t imagine anyone enjoying this book but perhaps you can prove me wrong? Due to Sebald’s place in the literary canon I will attempt to read his other lauded novel, Austerlitz, but I am very wary.