Book Review: Vertigo by W G Sebald (1990)

VertigoVertigo by W.G. Sebald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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 quotient is not worth a tarnished dime. Anyway, back to the poet.] He is now towering over a nubile being and scanning her notes. This young thing is explaining a sonnet with gusto, snapping the air with jingling of her bangles. [Does there exist a common set of fans of both Baudelaire and Shakespeare? Of course! Stupid me! Focus!] There is a fifth person around the same table who is presently sweeping the quartet with the incisive broom of her bushy eyelashes. [Is she the decision-maker or the note-taker?] Now and then, the five rearrange their gazes that return to settle at familiar corners at regular intervals. Parchments are frayed, books are shuffled, inks are spent, dates are booked and budgets are spooled. At long length, the chairs cough to clear their temporary owners upon seeing them lock the final reminders on their phones. As they exited, I cast a long shot over their diminishing frames which appeared like five uneven jagged tips of an archipelago, with the bunching of few, declaring allegiance within the island clan.

Sitting at a book cafe in a foreign land, I am unlikely to be privy to this fivesome’s next rendezvous. But is it likely that a whiff of Baudelaire scent in another time, in another unfamiliar land, on some future date, beseech me to relive this moment? A jingling of bangles over lyrical waves, may be? Didn’t I declare an unwavering twenty minutes of my life in their favor, mothering a nascent hope somewhere, of them forming a part of what I write today, and tomorrow? Or was the hope hinged on the dual legs of amnesia and disillusion where a tickle of rowdy adventure may topple the balance for good?

As a wanderer of questionable credentials, I waited for Sebald to join me in unravelling the threads of my hotchpotch travelogue. He has an authorial hand that has penned a stunning vertiginous thesis, legitimizing a dense brethren of Beyle, Dr.K and himself. Insinuated by a nebulous world, painted in lush resins of metaphors and teeming ruminations, I dived into his mystic valley forgetting about my inadvertent vertigo attacks. But he tendered assurances of safety and like a gentleman, kept his promise. My descent was marked by walks in Vienna and stays in Venice; arty trips to Verona were a revelation where Pisanello waved a enigmatic hello from the celebrated ruins. A shadow of Dante shimmered past at a high point where Casanova was jostling for a foothold. When Beyle left a key to his timid memories with Sebald, the latter, with an eye of a savant, opened only those doors to the visitor which the visitor had the capacity to overcome. After all, vulnerability is not a vanity to be dragged on insensitive roads. Like every able guide, Sebald too, kept a secret or two under his hat that he dazzled me with when I least expected it. He had come to know of my love for Mr.K and peppering an object of love with dust of doubt and loss is a ravenous thing to undertake. But he executed the spraying with such poignancy that I was forced to ponder if these very flaws accentuated the grandiose of Dr.K. He also guided me into the dilettante alleys of his childhood with the transparency of a new born’s eyes. He scrapped the bark of his insecurities to reveal a luminous skin that bore its sheen in my adulating mind. Why should bleeding be lamented if oozing blood washes toxic wastes of soul? Well, I didn’t mind bleeding a little myself.

And with those blood-stained palms, I finally touched his spine that stood sparkling at one of the shelves of this cafe I was waiting in. Sitting amid the penned memories of literary luminaries, he smiled through the puzzled face of a little child. And I instantly knew I had to befriend the child if I have to learn more of his craft and lend dignity to my travelogue. I swiftly reached out to hold his hand before anyone molly-coddled him to elsewhere. With another memory of Sebald tightly held under my arm, I walked out, thinking if there was any way to escape the vertigo.

Vertigo (Pattern)


Note: If my vague albeit sincere review of Sebald’s writing has somewhat muddled up your appetite, trust these guys to tell you why you need to read Sebald.

View all my reviews

[Image courtesy  jhearst.typepad.com ]

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