Reviewed by Christie Hodgen, Editor-in-Chief, New Letters
Anyone devoted to the work of W. G. Sebald will want to read Carol Angier’s Speak Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald, just out from Bloomsbury Circus. And yet, there is not only excitement but trepidation at the prospect of learning more about Sebald, who tended to cast himself as a shadowy figure, a mysterious flaneur walking across the terrain of his fictions. Angier acknowledges as much herself in her introduction when she speaks to the problem of classifying Sebald’s work—often biographical, researched, and even supported by photographic evidence, and yet always, too, artfully fictionalized. What in Sebald’s work is true, and why are “documents” such as diaries and photographs brought in to the work to verify fictionalized characters? As Angier puts it: “The photographs and documents that made them all so real to us—what are we to make of them now? If the characters are fictions, who are the photographs of?” In the end, the power of Sebald’s work and identity—his investigations of the horrors of the 20th century, most notably the holocaust—relies on this play between what is known and what can only be imagined. What we face, with this book, is the prospect of delving more purposefully into the known. One hundred pages in, some of my illusions have been dashed, and yet several truths have proved illuminating and satisfying. To come to know more about a figure who liked to dwell in the mist is something of a tradeoff, but a trade worth making.