As a huge Sebald fan, I was looking forward to reading this recently translated collection of essays, written by the man himself, about five writers and a painter who influenced his work.
Although I had encountered most of their names before in my various Sebaldian explorations, the only name which is likely to be familiar to most readers is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The list in full: Johann Peter Hebel, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Eduard Mörike, Gottfried Keller, Robert Walser, and Jan Peter Tripp (the lone painter).
Like Sebald himself, the five writers on the list all had roots in the Swiss-German borderlands. A running theme throughout these essays is their compulsion to write, and their suffering for their art. As Sebald describes their individual styles, he could at times easily be describing his own. For example, he explains that in Hebel’s writing:
one thing follows another, so very gradually, the narrative unfolds. Nevertheless, the language constantly checks itself, holding itself up in small loops and digressions and moulding itself to that which it describes, along the way recuperating as many earthly goods as it possibly can.
In other words, Hebel’s writing was pre-Sebald Sebaldian!
Anyone who loves Sebald’s writing will enjoy this book. Those who aren’t familiar with Sebald (shame on them!) probably won’t get much out of it.