Book review: ‘Austerlitz’ by W.G. Sebald

A haunting novel. File under Sebaldian.

‘Austerlitz’ by W.G. Sebald

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.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

By Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. Website · Facebook · Twitter · Newsletter · Book

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Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it’s inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants […] or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS. […] All in all, this is probably best described as a great ramble on the moor with an expert guide. […] It’s a wuthering wonder.
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