Review of The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Seabold, translated by Michael Hulse. Published in German in 1995 and English in 1998
The seemingly rather dull area of the coastal area of Suffolk is revealed to have links with the whole world. The silk and opium trades of China provide the finest web that weaves complicated interlinked cross-narratives between a local sea-battle, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Browne, Swinburne, Chateaubriand the Court of James The Second, the slave trade and sugar and mysterious abandoned government buildings used for sinister experimentations. Never far from the surface is the presence of the silk moth Bombyx mori and skulls. The whole book is an elegant synchronization of events, personalities and place. As we mentally travel with the author we see the here and now and share his discomforts and delights but even more extraordinarily we are swept away in a tide swell of true, but none the less fantastical, meditations across history.
Yes, there is sadness here but also hope. Robert McFarlane quotes Marianne Moor ‘diction galvinised against inertia.
For me there is confirmation of my ‘everything is linked’ obsession: there is also inspiration concerning the fugue-like narratives raised by disparate ideas [and hence for me objects and tales] in tight conjunction with one another. For me the work was tantalizing in a way that I could not fully explain. Will Self uses the expression “the author is very much present in his lines, and simultaneously absent” which exactly sums up the sensation I could not describe for myself. When I read a little about this fascinating man I was sickened to learn that this master of word, memory and place was severed from us when he died in a car crash aged 57.
Whilst ordering more of his books on Amazon. I was amazed to learn that you can buy silkworms on Amazon and set up your own sericulture project. Oddly Interesting