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4.02  ·  Rating details ·  4,155 ratings  ·  333 reviews
Vertigo, W. G. Sebald's first novel, never before translated into English, is perhaps his most amazing and certainly his most alarming. Sebald—the acknowledged master of memory's uncanniness—takes the painful pleasures of unknowability to new intensities in Vertigo.

Here in their first flowering are the signature elements of Sebald's hugely acclaimed novels The Emigrants a
Paperback, 263 pages
Published October 18th 2001 by New Directions Publishing (first published 1990)
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Average rating 4.02  · 
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Vit Babenco
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Vertigo is about properties of human mind and memory and the story goes as a sudden paroxysm of dizziness…
…over the years I had puzzled out a good deal in my own mind, but in spite of that, far from becoming clearer, things now appeared to me more incomprehensible than ever. The more images I gathered from the past, I said, the more unlikely it seemed to me that the past had actually happened in this or that way, for nothing about it could be called normal: most of it was absurd, and if not absu
Jul 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who are frequent visitors to memory lanes
I take refuge in prose as one might in a boat.
Laughter erupted from the adjacent table. A middle-aged lady chided a young man for his deteriorating writing skills. The young man shifted in his chair with a sheepish grin, nudging a tiny vial of admiration in his copper-brown eyes. [Were they bearer of a clandestine moment?] His neigbour was now invoking poetry gods with the adulterated whim of a ventriloquist. He quoted Baudelaire. [I think. Or was that Verlaine? Damn! My poetry quot
Steven Godin
Hmm......this is a tough one, and still don't know just quite what to make of it. I Could sit on it for 24 hours and reach a different conclusion, but while it's fresh in my mind I settle for now. And speakings of minds, Sebald going by this certainly had an imaginative one, made up of fragmented memories from his youth, and historical meditation swirled with fantastical events from an overview of the life of Stendhal in 19th century Italy . The positives from Vertigo far outweigh the negatives, ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: germany, fiction, 1001
Throughout Vertigo, W.G. Sebald, through deceptively clear prose and photographs, creates a disorienting waking dream for his readers. The novel is divided into four sections, and while there is not a straightforward plot or clear storyline, Sebald weaves thematic connections as well as specific details revisited from different perspectives to hold the novel together. Some sections read as biographies of historical figures, while others are written from the perspective of neurotic characters, tr ...more
Jan 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I listen, as it were, to a soundless opera.

Elsewhere I have called Sebald Europe’s last great rememberer, the final inheritor of the legacy of all those literary and artistic exiles of the disasters of the 20th century, sort of carrying all of that over for us into the new millennium, wandering late in the terrible century the landscape of what was built on top of those ruins and embers, surveying in a more detached mode the reconstruction smothering out the ghosts and relics, tuned to th
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
I find the wonderful German writer W.G. Sebald so difficult to review that my treatment of his second novel, The Rings of Saturn, was no more than a long story about a trip I once made with my then partner to her home in Cornwall, during which, mostly on account of her parents, I lost my mind and my girlfriend. I’m not, of course, going to go over all that again, and I couldn’t even if I wanted to, for I have forgotten much of what took place; yet the disquieting thing is that what I can recall ...more
93rd book of 2020.

Sebald traverses no land known to us. The names are familiar (Vienna, Venice, Verona…) but he is, in actuality, traversing his own mental landscape. We glimpse into it, the thin thread that weaves, not only across Europe, but his mind. Thoughts and images which appear to have no correlation begin to connect. A sense of order can be seen through chaos. Through reading we begin to also question what the blurb questions: What could possibly connect Stendhal’s unrequited love, the
Sep 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german
There are three main arteries to drive the 12.5 miles from my suburban home to downtown Pittsburgh. Foremost is McKnight Road, a six-lane swath through McDonalds and Target and JiffyLube and, well, you know the route. It's under construction this summer, a bridge reduced to two lanes. McKnightmare Road, now. If you insist on going that way, you sit, you do not move. I can not 'not move'.

But as I said, there are two other alternate routes to take; narrower and slower because of the additional tr
Jeff Jackson
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
1) Inspired to pick this up after seeing Grant Gee's doc "Patience: After Sebald" which is currently streaming on Netflix. It's worthwhile viewing, especially for Iain Sinclair's comments about why Sebald chose not to put his work into English himself (he was more than capable) and the subtle transformation that happens to his prose through the lens of translation.

2) His first novel isn't as tightly constructed as The Emigrants or as brilliantly sprawling as The Rings of Saturn, but the web of
MJ Nicholls
It’s hard to write about what Sebald does, since his style belongs to a tradition of German writers such as Thomas Bernhard: it’s sparse, lyrical, poetic and formally original.

Vertigo is the first of four “novels” where he pioneered his mix of memoir, historical lecture and evocative description. Like The Emigrants, the book is divided into four separate trips, whose connections (conceptual or intellectual) I am too feeble to understand. Each section explores the tension between memory and art,
“The more images I gathered from the past, I said, the more unlikely it seemed to me that the past had actually happened in this or that way, for nothing about it could be called normal: most of it was absurd, and if not absurd, then appalling.”


How does one explain, let alone come to grips with Sebald's 'Vertigo?' What is it that he does exactly? What is he reaching for?

Judging from fellow reviewers, this seems to be a question of some import, leaving vast amounts of his readers – devotees
K.D. Absolutely
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2012)
Dizzying yet beautiful. Reading Sebald, my second, is like drinking red wine. It tastes bitter yet there is an aftertaste of something sweet that is left in your mouth. It makes your head spin after a while and yet you enjoy the feeling. It is something that you don't normally drink (since I prefer beer being cheaper generally) but it gives you some class and it is reason enough for you to finish the till the last drop from the glass.

What I am trying to say is that this book takes you to an unfa
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's interesting for me—as I reacquaint myself with the frequencies of the Sebald-via-Hulse literary signal—to contrast the prose styles of the late German and the modern French academic Mathias Énard, the author of the five-hundred-plus page shotgun blast Zone : whereas Énard's amphetaminic, propulsive narration piles one gruesome event upon another with such energized and relentless urgency that no single scene is given the opportunity to overwhelm or paralyze the reader with horror, but ra ...more
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
I think there's a strong argument to be made that this is a five star book; Sebald will routinely, with a seemingly quotidian sentence, compel you to feel almost breathtaking pain and loneliness--it's a crazy trick. And the last several pages are jaw-dropping in a way I won't spoil. The front of my copy of Vertigo calls Sebald "memory's Einstein," and this pretty much has to be true since it's well established that Sebald can write a great book (or more than one) about what is essentially a walk ...more
Nov 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
"He had no answers, but believed the questions were quite sufficient" (p. 62)
Now I have read all of Sebald's four major "novels". I feel, as I often do after reading Sebald, unable to say anything meaningful about his work, even though I was deeply moved while reading him. It seems funny to me, in retrospect, that I didn't especially like Rings of Saturn, the first book of his I read. I'm sure if I return to it now I will love it. His writing goes to the edge of so many things that it is easy to
M. Sarki
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star-wonders
It seemed remarkable to me the ease in which I sped through this book. Not that I understood it all, I did not. Even though the translation I read was in English, the writing still felt foreign to me. The words for people and places, and even things, were unfamiliar, and from time to time I would skip back a few pages to see if I had missed something important in my understanding of this dream. Reading this felt like a dream. And often I would find myself pages ahead to somewhere I failed to und ...more
Jan 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps one of the reasons I do not read as many contemporary writers is that I find myself somewhat at sea as each one works his or her own strange magic on me. There is something comforting about reading a Balzac or a Trollope. I know their worlds and feel at home in them. Poor W G Sebald, on the other hand, suffers from a sense of Vertigo as he travels around Europe, bringing up memories and strange historico-literary coincidences involving Stendhal, Kafka, Casanova and others -- and many som ...more
Dhanaraj Rajan
What can I say about a Sebald book?

I can say only this much: It is no use trying to explain his book. The one and only solution - Buy the book and read it.

What will you find?

Sebald loves to travel and loves going on foot. That is what you will have to be prepared for - to travel. Do not worry about the new terrains and landscapes. Just follow Sebald. That is enough and he is an entertaining travel companion. Without you asking him anything, he will volunteer himself narrating some interesting ti
Elena Sala
VERTIGO is a novel about disillusionment and trauma. It is difficult, though, to call "novel" this unclassifiable text. Sebald used the term "prose narrative" to describe it, and I believe fictional travelogue is also a good description of it.

VERTIGO has very strong autobiographical elements, and it consists of four pieces which involve travel across the Alps. As usual, the narrator is a depressed, solitary wanderer, a writer who is fond of solitude and meditates on unknown details of obscure li
Jul 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
According to wikipedia, W.G. Sebald was a great writer.

According to the novel Vertigo, either:

A. I am not a great reader


B. Wikipedia is wrong

This book oscillated between boring and super boring, pointless and completely pointless, and meandering and whatever is more meandering than meandering.

Sure, not every book needs a plot, but not only did this book not have a plot, but it didn't really have a point (though again point A from above may be right, so do with this as you will). To be honest,
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translation, fiction
what to make of this melancholic, reflective, alluring work that so defies classification? memoir, history, travel writing, fiction, literary recollection of daydreams past? vertigo, sebald's first "novel," is all of these many things at once, eclipsing and synthesizing their respective elements to form something unassumingly unique. while the conception of memory (and its inevitable antipode) is of interest to many a writer, sebald's patient, ruminative reflections stand out in the way that the ...more
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The fourth section, Il ritorno in patria, is made of some beautiful nightmares. At school Frauliein Rauch...wrote up on the blackboard in her even handwriting the chronicle of calamities which had befallen W. over the ages and underneath it drew a burning house in colored chalk. The children in the class sat bent over their exercise books, looking up every so often to decipher the faint, faraway letters with screwed-up eyes as they copied, line by line, the long list of terrible events which, wh ...more
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
"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 tellin
Sonali V
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I always find it difficult to write about Sebald's books. This is the fourth Sebald book I have read, though this is his first published book. All the themes regarding memory, loss of memory, remembering, the changes which occur in our memory due to the passage of time, the revelations when we look back at events which had not made sense previously, how the past is never really lost, all these are in this book. Personally the last chapter affected me deeply where Sebald writes about the village ...more
Stephen Durrant
Dec 06, 2017 rated it liked it
W.B. Sebald is a writer who fascinates me, even as I can’t quite say I like what he writes. The problem is that I can never quite find my footing in his books, which is perhaps what he intends. “Vertigo,” I think, is about personal memory—the way we reconstruct the past, and the way that past forever comingles with the present, especially as the past is disappearing into fragments we can no longer put together coherently. Moreover, the past is constructed, if we are avid readers, as much out of ...more
Jim Coughenour
Jul 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
In a famous sentence Proust remarked
The only true voyage… would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is…
Sebald's strange fictions (part memoir, part travelogue, part historical meditation, mysterious embedded photographs) truly are another pair of eyes, another universe. Like Kafka – who haunts this book the way Nabokov haunted The Emig
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1990
I admit, I think 9/10s of this book went over my head. But before you jump to the conclusion that therefore I didn’t like it, I should say that that actually made the book very appealing. Let me explain: The book contains many many historical references to an area I know little about, namely, Northern Italy and Southern Germany. I’ve never travelled the route between Vienna and Verona. Vertigo also tracks the pathway of three historical figures whom I know relatively little about: Stendhal, Casa ...more
Steve mitchell
Beautifully written and insightful musings, an enjoyable read that flowed nicely. Readers may have a problem with the lack of plot or purpose, I often times find it difficult to get into book if its not plot driven. Sebald makes the reader forget linear lines while discussing such topics as war and waste and change, how all this mutates memory and life.

I personally feel this is an anti war book hidden subtly in a few sections, but that is just a on my part.

I would not mind re-reading this novel
Charles Finch
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable, I have to read it again. It's probably the weakest of his four books, however - highly recommend Rings of Saturn as a point of access if you're just getting into Sebald. ...more
Jun 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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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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