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Vertigo Paperback – October, 2001
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Sebald begins with Marie Henri Beyle (better known as Stendhal), cruising through the French author's painful and unreliable recollections of his military career. Then he splices in his own voyage through Italy, allowing these historical and personal perspectives to intersect when we least expect them to. As the book develops, it returns to the same locations: Milan, Verona, Venice, and the Alps. And in the course of this fractured meandering, the reader cohabits with a haunted Franz Kafka, admires the serene beauty of the stars above Lake Garda, and ultimately returns to Sebald's home in Bavaria, where the author confronts his childhood memories.
For Sebald, a straight line is never the shortest distance between two points: he more often travels in concentric circles, or cuts wild capers from past to present. Yet the stumbling journey in Vertigo seeks to replicate the distorted and unfathomable workings of memory itself. And it succeeds to an astonishing extent, so that the acts of traveling, recalling, and writing are impossible to tell apart:
On this occasion in the midst of the holiday season, the night train from Vienna to Venice, on which in the late October of 1980 I had seen nobody except a pale-faced schoolmistress from New Zealand, was so overcrowded that I had to stand in the corridor all the way or crouch uncomfortably among suitcases and rucksacks, so that instead of drifting into sleep I slid into my memories. Or rather, the memories (at least so it seemed to me) rose higher and higher in some space outside of myself, until, having reached a certain level, they overflowed from that space into me, like water over the top of a weir.Thus is the writer inundated. And so, happily, are his readers--those lucky enough to take the plunge. --Toby Green --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Simply stated, Sebald writes about the way the mind works - whether retracing synaptical strands that are memories, observing the world thru the windows of trams and trains as though watching an art film, or meandering through the visual stimuli that force us to confront fugitive connections with history or past lives or real but buried tragedies. Reading Sebald is like wandering through early morning or gloaming mists: what we see or hear or think is relative to how our minds process this information.
Sebald is obsessed with travel and with any obsession he delivers the fear of strange places as they bear witness to personal history related to actual history. He populates his travels with people so real they almost extend a touching hand while at the same time he places legends such as Stendhal, Kafka, Tiepelo in such vivid form that they seem of our time.
The rest of what Sebald does so wondrously is the magic that happens between writer and reader, and to give that away in description would be robbing the new reader of the pleasures of an intensely gratifying affair. This is writing at its best and I think the title "Vertigo" also describes the feeling of closing the final page of this pregnant journey.
"Vertigo" begins with an historical figure, in this case Marie Henri Beyle, better known to literary history as Stendhal. In the opening section ("Beyle, or Love is a Madness Most Discreet"), our third person narrator relates certain of the amorous adventures of Beyle during his travels in Italy, beginning with his first arrival in that country at the age of seventeen as a soldier in Napoleon's army. The year is 1800 and the historical record is drawn from Beyle's own notes of his experience, written more than three decades later at the age of 53. As if foreshadowing the vertiginous unreliability of the narrative to follow, the narrator (Sebald?) relates as follows: "The notes in which the 53-year-old Beyle, writing during a sojourn at Civitavecchia, attempted to relive the tribulations of those days afford eloquent proof of the various difficulties entailed in the act of recollection."
The third person narrative shifts, in the second section, to a first person relation of travels in Austria and Italy by our narrator beginning in the year 1980. It is an unreliable narrative, confounding dream and reality, past and present, in a text that seems to have a mysterious, underlying hermeticism. Thus, while aimlessly wandering the dark streets of Vienna, the narrator often thought he saw someone he knew walking ahead of me.Read more ›
"Vertigo" is a book that consists of four sections that are not completely related to one another and would have made just as much sense (or so it seems) if told in a different order. These various sections tell of journies made to Vienna, Venice, Verona, Riva, and finally to Sebald's childhood home in the mountains of southern Germany. The journies fold and refold themselves into one another, becoming a part of one another until we're not quite sure which is which. The travels of Sebald echo the travels of Kafka, while the travels of Kafka echo those of Stendhal. Sebald, himself, encounters Dante in the Duomo, King Ludwig II on a vaporetto and the daughter of James I at Heidelberg Station. What is real? What is not? Sebald never gives us any clear-cut answers, for that was never the purpose of his journey, nor of this book.
The first section of "Vertigo" is a third-person biographical sketch of a nineteenth-century Napoleonic soldier named Beyle and it begins with Napoleon's crossing of the Alps into Austrian Italy. Sebald has, himself, perused Beyle's own journals for the material that make up this sketch. It is to Sebald's credit, at least in my estimation, that he never mentions the fact that Beyle is the birth name of the French novelist, Stendhal.Read more ›
I mention this coincidence not solely because of narcissism, but because such coindences, such unexpected correspondences, such synchronicities, are the raw materials from which Sebald's books are made.
"Vertigo" is the first and most difficult of Sebald's four novels, and it may also be the most profound. The first example of his trademark form, the travel narrative as psychological and philosophical exploration, the book moves from London to Venice to the German alps and covers a range of subjects from the paintings of Pisanello to the loves of Stendhal, working in meditations on the treachery of memory, the fragility of identity, the struggle to find meaning in history (both personal and national)... Sebald's works are so intellectually rich that summary descriptions of them can only sound banal. Read the book and see for yourself.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Sebald is a writer for intellectuals; nothing wrong with that, I just mean that literary references and the meta-level behind the story play a very important role. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Marc L
This was one of the most painful books I've ever forced myself to read. Not because it's poorly written, but because I felt that it was going right over my head, and I just... Read morePublished 12 months ago by KathLDK Literogo
The novel is extremely well written and translated. Having said that, a clear plot or message is difficult to find, at least it was for this humble reader. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Rayfinder
A very odd little book that winds around the theme of memory and vertiginous feelings. The main character is un-named and tells the story of various persons and two sections are... Read morePublished 19 months ago by K.N.R.
Meandering, strange, and disassociative. Vertigo is a book about travel, the impossibility of travel, the meaning and meaningless of Place and Time, and the memorial mechanics of... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Micah Martin
Vertigo is the first of the four novel-memoirs written by WG Sebald, and also the first I have read. It is divided into four sections:
1. Read more
The first of Sebald's journeys into memory, history and so so much more. I recommend all of his books, especially this one.Published on January 29, 2014 by A. Barnes
Sebald is a superb writer, a remarkably innovative stylist. All four of his "novels" are mesmerizing, underwhelming, profound. This, his first, is one to read and reread.Published on December 17, 2013 by jeffrey vincent