Vertigo is a multi-threaded work that weaves a tapestry of images and sensations, a direct mind-to-mind transfusion, an extraordinary accomplishment for what are after all merely words on pages. I’ve often thought that I prefer to read for the author more than for their particular story. Books that don’t reveal a mind behind them might as well be written by a machine, and there is a place for those, but that place is getting smaller and smaller on my personal shelves!
Sebald continues to be a revelation the more I read him. He is alternately bewildering and startling, his books sprinkled with moments of absolute epiphany and surprising emotion. In Vertigo I was especially touched by some of the portraits of the villagers of his childhood in the final section, for instance the two sisters who operated a coffee shop into which no one ever stepped, but who baked a cake every week just in case, only to split that cake between them the following week. As always, the “illustrations” that Sebald includes in his books are often indistinct but occasionally vivid, such as the page of an old atlas in this one, which shows the world’s rivers and mountains side by side arranged by length and height, an image so ridiculous and sublime that I will probably never forget it.
This is one of the traits I especially admire in Sebald’s work. He makes a gift of thoughts and experiences and feelings that are so “true” that it makes no difference whether they “really” are true or not.