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The Rings of Saturn

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  11,303 ratings  ·  1,204 reviews
The Rings of Saturn — with its curious archive of photographs — records a walking tour along the east coast of England. A few of the things which cross the path and mind of its narrator (who both is and is not Sebald) are lonely eccentrics, Sir Thomas Browne's skull, a matchstick model of the Temple of Jerusalem, recession-hit seaside towns, wooded hills, Joseph Conrad, Re ...more
Mass Market Paperback, NDP881, 296 pages
Published April 17th 1999 by New Directions (first published 1995)
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Average rating 4.25  · 
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 ·  11,303 ratings  ·  1,204 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Oct 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels

In the autumn of 1993 I undertook a walking tour of Sherwood high street in the folorn hope of throwing off a sense of crepuscular ennui which enfolds me whenever I complete one of my walking tours. As I made my way up drab Haydn Road, an epitome of suburban English squalidness, I observed a man walking a dog which could only be a Labrador. The Portuguese explorer-merchants Joao Fernandes and Pero de Bercelos named the land and the canine variety unknowingly in 1500 in a cartographical inexactit
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
2nd read. One of my sacred texts. Maybe Sebald's masterpiece. One of those "if you don't like this book well that's on you, not the book, buddy" deals. Everything he does done damn near perfect pitch. As capitalist consumerist ethics and technology-dulled sensory blight inexorably infect all regions and human terrains, and even the way we map those terrains, and even more so how we think about and conceive of mapping those terrains, I will retreat happily away into realms of pure words and sound ...more
Vit Babenco
Feb 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
W.G. Sebald resides in the intellectual world so any event in his life brings up some literary, cultural or historical reminiscences…
Several times during the day I felt a desire to assure myself of a reality I feared had vanished forever by looking out of that hospital window, which, for some strange reason, was draped with black netting, and as dusk fell the wish became so strong that, contriving to slip over the edge of the bed to the floor, half on my belly and half sideways, and then to reac
Apr 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, ideas
This is a strange and melancholy journey, not really through Suffolk but through Sebald's mind. With poetry and pathos he narrates a wandering, but not random, series of extended meditations inspired by history and memory, local geography and phenomena, people he meets or sees on television, books he's read. We begin and end with Thomas Browne, moving in between from translation to experimentation, from Roger Casement to Dutch Elm Disease to the Troubles. We also return at times to the hospital ...more
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this with awe and wonder when it appeared in 1998. Broadly its main themes are the eccentric and grotesque aspects of Britain’s decline—including the peregrinations of Thomas Browne’s skull, dubious capitalism, carpet bombing of Nazi Germany, 20th century Imperialism, 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 ...more
This is the third travel memoir I've read* where an author spends time walking around the British Isles and yet, during their journey, seems to spend the majority of their time thinking about somethings, any-things, that are quite different.

When this thought first occurred to me, it made me laugh and think that perhaps Albion should be offended. But, given the books in question and what these literary rambles inspired, I think there really is no choice but to be flattered.

In the early 1990s, Seb
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Antonomasia by: Mookse March Madness tournament of books
So it turned out that I was going to get round to reading more Sebald (after Austerlitz, over three years ago), and it was going to be this one. And, unlike Austerlitz, which is incontrovertibly a novel, to read this was to experience the ur-text of what's meant by Sebaldian: vast, controlled digression, the lists, the descriptions, melancholic polymathic butterfly flitting from global to local history; travel writing, memoir, nature, biography (especially of fellow eccentrics with diverse inter ...more
Can't wait:

It was difficult to imagine the holidaymakers and commercial travelers who would want to stay there, nor was it easy…to recognize the Albion as the “hotel on the promenade of a superior description” recommended in my guidebook, which had been published shortly after the turn of the century.

Of course this connoisseur of desuetude, this dreamer on oblivion, tramps about with a lapsed guide book. The better to savor what’s disappeared from the land
Roman Clodia
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now, as I write, and think once more of our history, which is but a long account of calamities...

Is it presumptuous, I wonder, to declare Sebald a favourite writer when this is the first book of his I've read? Possibly - but there's that feeling, that he might himself possibly endorse, of feeling at home with a writer from the very first page. Which is ironic, since one of the themes of this book is precisely that sense of homelessness that confronts the many exiles nested here.

I'd also say
Apr 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Ted by: James
In the end I was overcome by a feeling of panic. The low, leaden sky; the sickly violet hue of the heath clouding the eye; the silence, which rushed in the ears like the sound of the sea in a shell; the flies buzzing about me – all this became oppressive and unnerving.

… the signpost left by the author says Dunwich heath

A travelogue? Perhaps. We read of the narrator's perambulations around, through, along – but also simply ruminating on – places to be found mostly in Suffolk, the English county
Apr 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-german
My second outing with Sebald turns out to be a fairly similar experience to the first. His writing is hallucinatory, meditative, ruminative, pondering; it is hard to read without your own mind wandering off into fields of its own, and then returning to the page to find that you're in a new place, new time, and not quite sure how you got there. It feels like those days of fever when you listen to the radio and drift off in between times, re-awakening to find that the documentary you were listenin ...more
I haven't read any of Sebald's novels. In fact that's what I had thought I was doing by picking up The Rings of Saturn, which Goodreads has incorrectly categorised as "fiction". The book is in fact a sort of digressional memoir and travel journal, whose meanderings include accounts of history, nature, art and literature, as well as the occasional smattering of philosophy. The subjects reach far and wide geographically and thematically, and range from the mundane to the utterly fascinating (a res ...more
Sam Quixote
We all have our reasons for reading the books we do. For me, I saw a video where the actress Gillian Jacobs talked about having read WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and, because I’m madly in love with her, I decided there was no better reason than to pick it up! And I’d heard the author’s name for some time now and was curious to see what he was like.

Unfortunately, The Rings of Saturn is pretty dang snoreworthy. I’m not even sure it’s a novel - it’s the author walking the East Anglian coast whi
Mar 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: readers who like meditation & significant stimulation
Recommended to John by: Alexander Hemon
The epigraph informs us that the "rings" of the 6th planet are in fact nothing but rubble. Worse, I can't think of any recent work of imagination -- Sebald published during the 1990s -- that so exposes the wreckage that inevitably results from our strutting & fretting hour on the stage. RINGS is all about wreckage, w/ one quiet, unsettling meditation on destroyed worlds after another, linked by nothing more than a vacation walkabout one August in the Sussex countryside. It's an odyssey w/out an ...more
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychogeography
I read this twice, seperated by a most important decade. The second reading was in the early days of our new house. Terms like haunted are often misused, but there is a sense that Sebald elevates the ghosts of maladaption and legacy to a momentary viewing, however stilted.

New homes and a safely surveyed life often prove to be mixed wagers. Sebald grounds one in the quotidian. Even as he unnerves with a passing query, a nagging thorn of dissociation. Commerce and legacy are tainted. The inherito
Peter Boyle
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Hmmm, how to describe The Rings of Saturn... Is it a travelogue? Is it a work of fiction, or is it part-memoir? Is it an exploration of history? Well, it is all of these things and more. To be perfectly honest, I've never read anything quite like it.

The book consists of a walk along the Suffolk coast of England, and the many observations that the unnamed narrator makes on his journey. These digressions are quite amazing in their erudition and detail. For example, on the narrator's stay in Southw
Oct 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
And Sir Thomas Browne, who was the son of a silk merchant and may well have had an eye for these things, remarks in a passage of the Pseudodoxia Epidemica that I can no longer find that in the Holland of his time it was customary, in a home where there had been a death, to drape black mourning ribbons over all the mirrors and all canvasses depicting landscapes or people or the fruits of the field, so that the soul, as it left the body, would not be distracted on its final journey, either by a re ...more
Aug 04, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german
a feeling of repetition ... a peculiar numbness like a grammophone repeatedly playing the same sequence of notes ... Repeatedly I felt as if I were lying in a traumatic fever in some kind of field hospital ...

Sebald's words, not mine. But apt.

Perhaps it's Summer. The tomatoes are ripening but stinkbugs and a chipmunk are fighting me for the harvest. The local nine have teased me after 18 losing seasons but they can not beat the Brewers ever and sometimes not even the Cubs. A new iphone beckons w
Justin Evans
May 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Nobody can accuse me of not trying to understand the appeal of WGS to so many trustworthy readers, but for the life of me, I can't come up with a good reason for his popularity. This review is a really a group review of 'Rings,' 'Emigrants,' 'Campo Santo,' and and Lynn Sharon Schwartz's 'The Emergence of Memory.' I'm putting it under 'Rings,' because this is certainly the best book of Sebald's that I read.

I've asked people why they think Sebald is popular. One fairly broad response was: his wor
Adam Dalva
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's an accumulative work - the associative connections grow as you read and the novel (or is it a novel?) only reveals itself structurally late in the game. I went through it slowly at first, but it is oddly exciting for something that is essentially a combination of linked essays, long walks, and landscape descriptions. But: great essays, great walks, and great landscape descriptions. The use of photographs really help. There are a few sections - Holderlin, the dilapidated Irish manor, Conrad ...more
Update February 22, 2011:

I just re-read this book a few days ago and reading back on my initial impression of Sebald is both humbling and embarrassing. I kind of missed the point, didn't I?

I still see what I was saying back then, and think you have to either be in a certain mood or be willing to be enchanted into that mood in order to fall in love with this work. Nevertheless, I am glad I didn't give up on him and moved on to read his entire works. This book, on second read, is the least memoir-

Well, I'm quite pleased to finally know what all the fuss is about over Sebald. I will be reading more of him for certain. His perambulatory narrative, couched in an irresistibly digressive style, captivated me immediately. Gladly I followed him down an ever-extending prosaic warren peopled with delightfully eccentric historical figures and chock full of anecdotes that he may or may not properly recall all the details of but are fascinating nonetheless (and did not particularly compel me to fact
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
From the outset, Sebald makes it clear that the theme of this book will be entropy. To paraphrase the quotation from the epigraph, the rings of Saturn comprise the ice and rock from a moon destroyed on collision with the planet. Such is Sebald's mood and it's anything but Saturnalian. He mentions "the blue devil of melancholy", a condition suffered intermittently by the writer, Edward FitzGerald. It turns out to be the presiding spirit here. Everywhere he looks he sees decay: decaying empires, d ...more
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the challenges in reviewing The Rings of Saturn is to try to define it. W.G. Sebald sometimes described his work as documentary fiction.

In essence, this book describes W.G. Sebald’s walk through coastal East Anglia, from Lowestoft to Bungay. Is it a journey of the body? Or more of a journey through Sebald’s mind? The dreamlike quality suggests it’s a meandering subconscious state which informs the writing.

I was captivated by Sebald’s curious travelogue/history/memoir hybrid, and learned
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m attempting something new: a real-time review, folks! I’m recording my thoughts as I move along this gorgeous book. Only 20-pages in, I’m captivated by the clarity of the labyrinthine sentences. They’re mesmeric. This is lovely.

Page 42: Still flawlessly written, if gyratory.

Page 117: These chapters are concentric circles.

May 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Sebald, who is and isn't the narrator of the memory trek called The Rings of Saturn, early on describes the contemplative methodology of the seventeenth century (meta)physician Sir Thomas Browne: he therefore sought to look upon earthly existence, from the things that were closest to him to the spheres of the universe, with the eye of an outsider, one might even say of the creator. This detached and potentially demiurgical approach serves Sebald admirably as he recalls a previous perambulation t ...more

Limpid, lucid, uncategorizable, learned, lovely, reverent, informative, dreamlike, dark, deep, addictive, poetic, Meaningful, unique, seductive....

Here's a part of a small paper I did on this book for a class a couple of years ago. I've been meaning to add this, since I really loved and was provoked by this book...


I intended to write this essay about Waiting For The Barbarians and how the Magistrate’s story is tied in to the desire to become an authentic self. The Magistrate, after a lif
Ade Bailey
Indeed, in historiography, the indisputable advantage of a fictitious past have become apparent: secondary or tertiary worlds as imagined in Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius manifest themselves from the ideas and representations of the world onto the physical world itself. In the final analysis, says a voice in The Rings of Saturn, our entire work is based upon nothing but ideas. Yet these ideas – or representations – are flimsy as film, and they change over the years and which time and time again cau ...more
Dhanaraj Rajan
Reason for Five Stars

This book gave me a different literary experience. I began the book expecting something and ended up with many surprises. I began the book thinking of it as a piece of literature related to travel. But the book had much in store for me - history, biography, literary criticism, art criticism, science, photography, natural history, etc.

Later I found that this book is normally defined as: Combining the details of a walking tour with meditations prompted by places and people enc
Sentimental Surrealist
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Above all, the Rings of Saturn is very good at being itself and forcing us readers, or at least this reader, to judge it on its own terms and its own terms only - the conventional talk of character arc, &c. doesn't apply here. That doesn't necessarily have to be praise, depending on the type of reader you are, but for me it certainly is. The conflict here doesn't so much escalate in the classic way of things, the character walks and observes and narrates and doesn't really change, and yet this b ...more
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Winfried Georg Maximilian Sebald was a German writer and academic. His works are largely concerned with the themes of memory, loss of memory, and identity (both personal and collective) and decay (of civilizations, traditions or physical objects). They are, in particular, attempts to reconcile himself with, and deal in literary terms with, the trauma of the Second World War and its effect on the G ...more

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