W.G. Sebald is widely considered among the best modern German authors, so I approached this book with curiosity and high expectations. The Rings of Saturn records the author’s walking tour along the East Coast of England. As W.G. Sebald resides in the intellectual world, his tour naturally brings up literary, cultural or historical reminiscences.
An astute Goodreads reviewer noted that Britain’s decline’s eccentric and grotesque aspects are this work’s central theme. The peregrinations of Thomas Browne’s skull, dubious capitalism, carpet bombing of Nazi Germany, 20th-century Imperialism, the case of Roger Casement, Belgian Congo genocide, quasi-repatriation of Michael Hamburger, Tai-ping rebellion, Joseph Conrad’s Congo excursion, Edward Fitzgerald’s life and times, etc.—and how these end, or, indeed, constitute decay, dissolution and death. That’s a lot of output for a few days-long walk-about.
I learned about many people and events I was unaware of, and I’m grateful for that. The writing is excellent, as it is the Italian translation. But this work lacks a solid central character; the narrator’s travels don’t tie its disparate strands together adequately, making the whole not as gripping as desired.