Posted by: Corri van de Stege | August 24, 2008

The Sunday Salon – skies, birds, time and Sebald

Yes, before we know it, it will be autumn and then winter all over again.  But for the time being all around the wood pigeons cookooroo high in the tree tops and hidden behind the roofs and garden sheds. 

Then there’s the flapping of wings, I cannot see the birds , hear their flap flap, urgent, and whoops they’re gone.  It’s still summer, even if it becomes quite chilly later in the afternoon.  We can still sit out there on a Saturday, while everyone else is frantically trying to enjoy their last summer bank holiday weekend somewhere else, away from it all, piled up in cars and planes.  There is silence in this garden, except for the echo of a roar of a distant car, approaching, passing the house beyond the hedges, unseen, and then the sound is replaced by that of a hedge cutter somewhere across in a garden beyond ours.

                The sky is covered in a greyish mass of clouds, layers streaked like a dirty flag, the colours faded, with openings that let through the light of a sun, now well hidden and beyond visibility for the rest of the day.

                After the frantic bustle of the two past weeks so full of road madness and imposing time limits, everything has come to a stop and suddenly there is nothing but this cool late summer day, the sound of distant motors and machines, disconnected, and the calls of birds, the wood pigeons, a crow and a blackbird and then a disorganised group of martins flying away, specks against the heavy sky.  Time has come to a standstill and it should be possible to bag this, keep it, and just stop here. 

                Perhaps all one needs to is remember this, this idleness, take one day at the time and allow oneself to unwind so that once more one can search for what is within and be unconcerned about the pressures that relentlessly come in from the outside.

                Could we not claim, said Austerlitz, that time itself, has been non-concurrent over the centuries and the millennia?  It is not so long ago after all that it began spreading out over everything.’  (Austerlitz, by W.G Sebald).

                Yes, I’m enjoying this odyssey by Sebald through some of European history and the quirky but very intellectual musings that are, what?  A novel, fiction, biography or autobiography?  I don’t know, and I think it does not matter.  The blurb says this book is ‘one of the most moving and true fictions on the post-war world. ‘   And, no, I don’t know what true fiction means, but it certainly strikes a chord.  It just does not matter.   Sebald talks about cumulative clouds, and so looking at the Norfolk sky at the end of August I realise that is what I see, cumuli, and how better to describe this painting.  Sebald provides lists, as a true fiction writer, drawing in his readers, but his lists are literary, more than just lists, as when Austerlitz recalls the moths that are attracted by uncle Alphonso’s ‘ incandescent lamps’:

     ‘Gerald and I could not get over our amazement at the endless variety of these invertebrates which are usually hidden from our sight and that Alphonso let us simply gaze at their wonderful display for a long time,  but I don’t recollect now exactly what kinds of night-winged creatures landed there beside us, perhaps they were China-Marks, Dark Porcelains and Marbled Beauties, Scarce Silverlines or Burnished Brass, Green \foresters and Green Adelas, White Plumes, Light Arches, Old Ladies and Ghost Moths, but at any rate we counted dozens of them, so different in structure and appearance that neither Gerald nor I could grasp it all….. 

                And so, you are reminded that the world is so much more intricate, that moths are not just the insects that eat your clothes and curtains, given enough neglect. 

                I don’t know where this book is going, but I’m certainly mesmerised as if a world lost is being opened up again.    And, yes, I will read more Sebald, I am so glad I happened to come across him.  I’m really interested to hear if you’ve read him and what you think of him. 






  1. Yes, there is a real feel of Autumn in the air here in the West Midlands as well. It’s that time of year when you take advantage of every possible opportunity to sit outside because the misty mornings and nights drawing in remind you that soon it won’t be something you can do. Morning coffee in the garden, I think.

  2. Love this line: “Time has come to a standstill and it should be possible to bag this, keep it, and just stop here.”

    Funny, you can never be sure exactly which line will resonate with a reader. This one got me…the idea of “bagging it” – and keeping it.

    And just might have me looking at a Sebald book!

  3. Stunning!

  4. Sigh, Autumn so where did summer go. Book sounds interesting My Holiday from Hell and Books from Heaven post.

  5. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Such a lovely, atmospheric post and review. I could almost feel the cool fallish air (even in the midst of our hot Florida sunshine!)

    I’m not familiar with the author you’re reading – thanks for introducing me.

  7. I agree with Becca – what a beautifully written atmospheric post. I like the slow unwinding of late summer (with the sense of time running out before winter arrives). Here we’re getting ready for Spring but still enduring cold mornings.

  8. Summer autumn and then winter? Again? Oh no, it was winter only yesterday and I want to hang on to the warmth. What warmth, English summer? Instead I loose myself for another day in Sebald this Bank Holiday Monday.

  9. I can hear the footsteps of autumn as well, as the leaves are turning flaming red and yellow, as one layer is not enough to shelter myself from the morning cool air. Summer is coming to an end soon. I took a small outing to the countryside north of the Golden Gate this weekend and bathed in sun with a book.

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