German by birth and British by choice, the writer W.G. Sebald was a world-class literary straddler: His dense, hauntingly descriptive work toggled between fiction and memoir, interior and exterior landscapes, the ugly legacy of his native country (specifically WWII and the Holocaust) and the beauty of East Anglia, where he lived for 35 years prior to his death in 2001. Personal and social memory preoccupied him, as did the English countryside; his 1995 novel, The Rings of Saturn, concerned a man named “W.G. Sebald” (himself? an avatar? some combination of the two?) who walks through rural Suffolk and ponders everything from European history to silkworms, encountering a host of interesting (real? imagined?) characters.
Judging from the number of writers, editors and pundits who attest to the greatness of that book’s sprawling psychogeographical magical mystery tour, Saturn is a favorite tome among Sebald’s legion of fans—including documentarian Grant Gee (Meeting People Is Easy), who’s constructed his own memorial collage-cum-tone-poem about the belletrist’s travelogue. Black-and-white shots of pastoral tableaux, lapping waves and the occasional animal corpse are accompanied by philosophical musings from Chris Petit, Rick Moody, Iain Sinclair and others; the protagonist’s route is traced via textual maps; pages of Sebald’s work read aloud butt up against testimonies and a radio interview with the man himself. It’s less a biographical sketch than an attempt at remembrance via a replication of Sebald’s stream-of-consciousness prose, an outside-the-vérité-box effort that obfuscates as much as it fascinates. Look elsewhere if you want a linear timeline of Sebald’s life or don’t possess that titular virtue; everyone else will want to make a beeline to their local bookstore.
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