In 1981 a young woman who had recently moved to Norwich was invited out by a group of friends. Amongst them was a man that she had never met before. His name was Max, although the world would later come to know him as W.G. Sebald.
Out of that initial encounter, a friendship was to grow: the more Philippa got to know the young German university lecturer, the fonder of him and the closer to him she became. Their love of European literature and poetry, of people’s personal histories and a shared sense of living in a state of suspended exile offered them plenty of scope for discussion and exploration. Personally and professionally, this was a difficult period in both their lives; yet against this background, the friendship blossomed. And then Philippa was offered new work involving another move and relocation. Physical distance was put between them, meaning they saw less of each other, the relationship eventually fading. Some years later, not long after they had resumed contact, Max was killed in a car crash. He had suffered a heart attack at the wheel.
Making extensive use of diaries she kept at the time, Philippa Comber has written a book on several levels: a memoir about a period in her own fascinating life, including details of family members and friends that take us back through history - we get to meet people from all walks of life, some, in their own way, extraordinary. At the same time, it is a deeply honest and revealing account of a relationship with a difficult man to know – by turns melancholic, outrageously funny, pessimistic, hopeful, proud, yet plagued by doubt. Ariadne’s Thread describes a person at a turning point in his life, as he begins to contemplate writing in a different vein, for himself rather than for academic purposes. We see, illuminated in a personal and frank manner, the ideas and motivations which came together in one man’s mind, subsequently making him one of the most influential European writers of the 20th century.
We should value Ariadne’s Thread as much for the diversions into Comber’s own legacy, her European journeys, the acts and coincidences of a rich life, as for serial revelations of the Sebaldian persona.