Nick Page

Bedside reading #5 and #6: Sebald and Jansson

OK, we’re ticking off the books, but the situation is slightly complicated by the fact that I’ve added more to the pile. Ho hum.
Anyway, here’s the latest batch in what is turning out to be a gargantuan task.

Sebald. The Rings of Saturn

Is it fiction? Is it fact? Does it matter? Sebald’s books are like no-one else’s. Infused with a characteristic melancholy, they are weird concoctions of history, anecdote, autobiography and sheer make believe.

They have a kind of hypnotic power to them. But they are not for the faint hearted. Austerlitz, for example, which I read last year, is one solid paragraph.There are breaks – he peppers the text with strange little photographs and diagrams.

Rings of Saturn tells the story of a trip round the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk. I think I picked this up in the travel book section of the bookshop, but it’s not really a travel book.  With extended digressions on Thomas Browne, Joseph Conrad, herring fleets and silkworms its more like a dream than anything else. A strange and compelling book.

Tove Jansson: The Winter Book

A collection of stories put together as a sequel to the thoroughly wonderful A Summer Book, this is more northern European melancholy. There’s a great sense of place, and the stories are beautifully written and constructed, but they don’t grab you in the same way that A Summer Book does. What comes through most strongly is just what a strange, spirited, independent little girl she was. I know now where the character of Little My in the Moomin books came from.