My second review in as many days – the joys of reading multiple books at once!
Austerlitz is the tale of Kindertransport child Jacques Austerlitz, who was adopted following his arrival in the UK with a name change and a whole lot of identity suppression. He starts to find out who he is when he takes his exams, where he’s asked to use his ‘real name’ so that he can attain his grades. And that is when Dafydd Elias discovers he is actually Jacques Austerlitz. The story may well be true or have emerged from a true story, but evoking this powerful search for identity and history is an interesting premise.
Where Sebald has fallen flat for me is his monotone writing style and tediously long sentences. I should have guessed this was coming given how I noticed this with Sebald’s other works, e.g. the Emigrants. Many have called it ‘part of his style’ and representing an ‘internal monologue’, but ultimately, the reader wants to be engaged and inspired – and that comes from readable sentences as free from tedium as possible. It may work for some, but I don’t think I am willing to read anything further from Sebald as it is such a challenge to bring myself to get to the end.
The most interesting part for me was the initial revelation about Austerlitz’s real name and past, with a close second his time in hospital following a breakdown of what was felt to be hysterical epilepsy. I think more could have been made of that – the damage inflicted by discovering his history and a whole new identity from that he was raised with.
Overall similar to Everything is Illuminated for me, in the sense that it is a promising storyline that did not deliver.