Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Book 26 of 2013: The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald

I reread W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants in preparation for the final bit of my last OU course. It tells the stories of several people who moved away from Germany at various times and for various reasons.


It's really a series of disjointed stories, the only thing which seems to hold them all together is the relationship of the author to the people he is speaking about. It's a little unclear at times whether the narrator is the same person all the way through though.

I probably would've gotten more from this book if I'd paid more attention to the chapter discussing it in the course book. I'll admit, I skim-read that bit because it was getting close to the exam and I knew there was no way I was going to write about The Emigrants so I didn't want to waste too much time on it that could be better spent elsewhere.

I think I enjoyed my initial read of it more than the reread. On my first go through I kept on waiting for it to all come together and start making sense, I caught a couple of references to 'the butterfly man' an thought perhaps that was something I'd missed in the other stories. That wasn't the case though and I quickly found that on a second read through it was no more enlightening than on the first.

The stories were no less disjointed and I struggled to follow some of them; particularly the one about the older gentleman who ended up having electroshock treatment. One minute it was talking about how he died and the next moment it was following him as he travelled around Europe as a companion to the son of a wealthy family.

I felt like at times it was edging towards magic realism, but it never actually committed to it. I would've liked a touch of magic realism because it would've livened things up a bit. It was a pretty depressing book with everyone killing themselves or dying sad and lonely deaths.

I did enjoy the photos in the book. Though I would've liked to have some explanations of what they were photos of; some were explained but most weren't and it left me wondering who the people were and how they were linked to the stories. In a way they kind of reminded me of the pictures in the Lemony Snickett autobiography.

One thing it did have going for its favour is that it was a relatively quick read. It's not one that I'm going to revisit in the future. Providing I get good results back from my exam this book'll be going up on eBay for some other OU student to struggle through. I doubt whether I'll miss it!

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