Ranking Sebald’s Novels

My fascination with ranking artistic works is long-standing. Having finished all four of W. G. Sebald’s novels and had some time to reflect, I venture the following ranking:

  1. Austerlitz
  2. Emigrants
  3. Rings of Saturn
  4. Vertigo

Readers are invited to submit their own rankings, or to explain in detail why mine is correct, in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “Ranking Sebald’s Novels

  1. I’m less of a rankings person, overall. But I’m interested in what others think and am not averse to making my own provisional claims. Having just finished rereading all four books in preparation for writing a paper I delivered yesterday, I have Sebald on the brain. I think the vast majority of people who have completed all four books would share your assessment that Austerlitz is the pinnacle of his achievement, as do I. And I suspect that most would also agree with you that Vertigo, though at times superb, is not quite as impressive as the other three. If it comes down to deciding whether The Emigrants or The Rings of Saturn will place second, I suspect that the decision will turn on whether one values Sebald’s ventriloquism of other characters’ voices in The Emigrants more than the ways in which he fashions a first-person singular narrator in The Rings of Saturn who is eerily like the author, but crucially different. For my part,since the content of The Emigrants overlaps with Austerlitz — indeed, the latter almost seems like a very long addendum to the former — I will go with The Rings of Saturn, itself more like Vertigo in structure and tone, as my pick for his second-best work. In other words:

    1) Austerlitz
    2) The Rings of Saturn
    3) The Emigrants
    4) Vertigo

    Thanks for posing the question, which helped me to pin down some feelings that were schwebend.

  2. I only recently started Vertigo (slightly ashamed that Adam has beaten me at reading all his novels, though I have read his long poem After Nature and a few essays, though not the prose, from Campo Santo, so I always have that), but I basically agree with Charlie for pretty much the same reasons.

  3. I rank Rings of Saturn first, for the effect it has on my imagination, leading me into realms and speculations both other-worldly and historical. Second, Vertigo, for its freshness, and the notebook quality it has. Third, Austerlitz, which clearly is a masterpiece, but I find it heavy-handed and indulgent in the historical guilt theme; and last, Emigrants. I have also read Against Nature, but it seems cryptic, and impossible to really fathom in the original language.

  4. I, as well, am a rankings person, and Sebald has for years been one of my favorite contemporary-ish writers.

    I think I would have to say…

    1.) The Emigrants
    2.) Rings of Saturn
    3.) Austerlitz
    4.) On the Natural History of Destruction
    5.) Campo Santo
    6.) After Nature
    7.) Vertigo
    8.) / 9.) Unrecounted/For Years Now

  5. I am surprised that Austerlitz is getting so much love. I’d been under the apparently mistaken impression that it was generally seen as his worst novel. Of the three I’ve read, anyway, it is, easily. Rings of Saturn being the best, then Vertigo.

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