Thursday, 15 October 2009

Abandoning Austerlitz

I have just had to abandon Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald two thirds of the way through. I feel rather pained about this, as it undermines my self-image as a serious reader of literary fiction (especially when I read the list of worthy reviewers who have rated it so highly). But I was so bored, not only was I skimming it, I was falling asleep over it (even more quickly than I already fall asleep while reading in bed anyway). I could cope with the lack of paragraphs and the stream of consciousness style, but the constant description, like an endless loop from a beautiful but uneventful film, combined with the relative lack of strong characters failed to grab me. The flattish prose (which may have lost something in the translation) did not wake me out of my torpor either and its dream-like qualities just ended with me actually dreaming.

I did get more out of Rings of Saturn, if that redeems me in any way. Part travelogue, part reminiscence, part biography/history, this book defies neat categorisation but was fascinating. It is based round a walking tour of East Anglia and includes descriptions of several places I know well combined with riveting stories of people and buildings. Austerlitz too is filled with plenty of important and sombre details about the deportation of the Jews and the Nazi concentration camps but these facts seemed undermined by the vague and dreamy narration of the shadowy not-quite-real Austerlitz himself.

(Anyway, at least Rings of Saturn's spine shows that I read it to the very end, unlike the tell-tale spine of Austerlitz.)

PS Thanks to Susan for recommending Rings of Saturn.

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