Rambling around Suffolk

Last weekend I spent a few days in Suffolk, part of it spent at the William Alwyn Festival, which is always excellent, and part roaming around the countryside, spending time at Sizewell Beach with the dog, and visiting my very favourite ruin - Leiston Abbey. I also hunted for a church mentioned in Medieval Graffiti, and was unable to find it anywhere. I had thought it was going to be difficult to spot the graffiti, but hadn't anticipated that the church would apparently have vanished too!

While in deepest Suffolk I thought it would be a good opportunity to read a book written at least partly about the county, W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn. I'm never quite sure what to make of Sebald. I love his writing, although am never entirely sure how much of this is because of his skill as a writer, and how much is because of the work of his translator.

If you've never read Sebald he takes a bit of getting used to, he really is not like anyone else. His books are a stream of consciousness - part fiction, part musings on life, part fact; but it's not terribly clear where one ends and the other begins. It's a flowing, fascinating and occasionally irritating juxtaposition of thoughts, reality, and imagination.

The easiest way to show what he's like is probably to give you a synopsis of my walk on Sizewell beach in the style of Sebald:-

Is there an International Frisbee Day? If not, why not? The frisbee was invented by [long discourse on the history of the frisbee]. Wonders why there are so many soles of shoes on the beach [history of shoemaking in Northamptonshire and how this relates to the William Alwyn Festival]. Finds a large lightbulb on the beach. Wonders where it came from, and how it managed to arrive on the beach without being smashed. Couldn't find the medieval church at Parham. Where was it? Why did it vanish? Can the stories of the Arabian Nights be true? I love my dog's smile. Remembers Alfie Spaniel swimming with seals when a puppy. Looks for Dogger Bank [discourse on the lost land of Dogger] etc., etc.

As I said, it's odd but truly fascinating. There's a sadness about much of the book, whether Sebald is musing on the cruelties of the last Empress of China, the fall of the great country houses of England, or the ruthlessness of Edwardian shooting parties. It's a strangely disconcerting read, but nevertheless totally engaging; and no-one else before or since has written quite like Sebald.


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