Arthur's Reviews > Vertigo

Vertigo by W.G. Sebald
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Nov 08, 2009

it was amazing
Read in November, 2009

"Vertigo" is a haunting book. I don't know that I should call it a novel. I don't know what it's about. But it's absolutely marvelous, a strange concatentation of digressions, anecdotes, minor incidents, memories, and random thought processes such as you experience when you're sitting on an airplane and the present is a transition that feels like a suspension of your "real" life.

"Vertigo" feels as if the book is being whispered in your ear by a master storyteller who never gets around to telling you the story. There is a narrator, an "I"; there is a journey. There are dates given and locations named and causes linked to effects. There is an irresistible narrative pull. There are enough conventions deployed of the traditional Western novel to make you feel as if you know where you're going. But you don't. It's as if "Vertigo" is wandering through the ruins of the 19th-century novel. The main story line has been hollowed out of the narrative, and all that's left is a periphery of observation, incident, and digression.

Yet you never feel that there's something lacking or that something is being unfairly withheld or postponed; each sentence feels full in the way consciousnes is full even at the quietest moment. And you always know exactly where you are; the stream of consciousness is presented in beautifully simple and precise prose. Moment to moment, there is no difficulty, no mystery--that is, none beyond the quotidian uncanny we all feel when we consider how little we know about what's going on around us. Cumulatively, however, the effect is of strangeness and beauty, and that most traditional and compelling effect of fiction: that you've experienced another life from the inside.
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Rachel "wandering through the ruins of the 19th c. novel" Nice!


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