I’ve given up trying to describe the late W.G. Sebald’s books, other than to say they’re indescribable—or Sebaldian.
Unlike his earlier three masterpieces, Vertigo, The Emigrants, and The Rings of Saturn, Austerlitz is clearly fiction. As with those other, harder-to-classify works, Austerlitz is about Europe and memory and loss, and loss of memory.
The eponymous Austerlitz, who reveals much of his story during a series of encounters with a nameless narrator bearing an uncanny resemblance to W.G. Sebald, was, we learn, brought up under a different name by foster parents in Bala, North Wales. At boarding school, his headmaster eventually informs Austerlitz of his real name. “Excuse me, sir, but what does it mean?” asks Austerlitz. He spends the rest of the novel trying to find an answer to his own question.
No spoilers. Austerlitz is a brilliant novel, written in haunting prose without paragraph breaks, made more real with Sebald’s trademark, enigmatic black and white photographs.
A fantastic read.