On WG Sebald and Frivolity Print

Russell Hoban introduced me to the concept of a walking book--the book that you carry around in case you get an opportunity to read (flat tyre, etc.). Usually with me it is a review book, which gave rise to the Baby Elephant Test: if a book can't hold your attention while you are in a queue waiting to see a baby elephant, then it is NO GOOD. But I needed to read Sebald's THE RINGS OF SATURN, and so I took it to a vintage fashion fair.

Bad idea.

In the break from investigating the fascinating items for sale and making my choice, I read Sebald over a coffee. I started getting inexplicably depressed, and then realised it was not my fault. The book is about entropy. It is also profoundly melancholic in its depiction of enterprises rotting and becoming dust (I paraphrase here). And the scope is generally masculine.

A vintage fashion fair is not entropic, melancholic nor masculine. Sure, it featured selected female passengers on the TITANIC, with approximations of their wardrobes, which ranged from Paris couture to middle-class and sensible. It is hard to feel melancholy among a brightly coloured celebration of female costuming, in which old clothes, rather than rotting in tips, are redistributed to happy owners.

Some snapshots. A woman seeking 70s frocks with loud prints: 'because they allow for my bust!' The ooh-ah in the changing rooms as a slender young girl fitted perfectly and becomingly into a very slimline 50s frock. The other young girls who had various looks, from 30s to 60s, down perfectly. A wool frock which didn't fit me, but beguiled in its happy marriage of brown, blue and purple, as well as an intricately tucked peplum.

My loot for the fair consisted of a couple if inexpensive yet imaginative brooches, a hat with veil, a ribbon and some lace. Buying them was easier without the spectral presence of a gloomy German literary novelist, looking over my shoulder and saying: 'Tut!'

I should have taken some Colette instead.