Robert Ronsson's Reviews > Austerlitz

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
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's review
Jun 03, 2009

did not like it
Read in February, 2009

When I told a mate, who is a fine man and whose opinion I respect, that I found Sebald's The Rings of Saturn difficult, he said, 'Read Austerlitz, you cantankerous old git. It's even better than Rings. Austerlitz is his Meisterwerk.' So I paid good money and started to read.

I reached page 218 before giving up. (I joked to my mate that this was halfway through the first paragraph but actually there may have been a few paragraph breaks up to this point.) Here is the sentence that did it for me. I reached it and it was like I was running a marathon and I hit that spot where the leg muscles give up and you simply can't put one foot in front of the other. Yes, I had hit Sebald's wall. Here it is:

(Austerlitz, now an adult, meets his old nursemaid, Vera, in Prague for the first time after a gap of many years): It was through an interest in every aspect of French civilization, she added, something which as an enthusiastic student of Romance culture I shared with both Agata and Maximilian, that a friendship began to develop between us immediately after our first conversation the day they moved in, a friendship which led as if quite naturally, so Vera told me, said Austerlitz, to her offering, since unlike Agata and Maximilian she had time largely at her own disposal, to assume the duties of nanny for the few years until I started nursery school.

If any person other than Sebald wrote this sentence in the first page of their manuscripts any (and I mean any) editor or agent would shake his or her head and throw the manuscript in the bin. How did Sebald get away with it?

By the way, I've been told this extract looks bad out of context that it sits more comfortably in its place on the page. Believe me, it doesn't. Even in context it's utter goobledegook.

Everybody tells me Sebald is quality - I think he's 'aving a laugh
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11/30/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

And yet, Robert, it is quality! One star for you!

Robert Ronsson M. de Dubois wrote: "And yet, Robert, it is quality! One star for you!"
Please, M. de Dubois, show me the quality in the extract I quoted and I'll think again.

message 3: by LisaZen (new) - added it

LisaZen I'm so happy I gave up early. The book was all too literary. Words, words, words. And no life! The poor and uninteresting photos made me decide to abandon the book. The world is full of poor photos; why print and spread them all over?. Crap!!!

message 4: by Howard (new)

Howard Jaeckel An elegant review of -- to put it in direct language foreign to Mr. Sebald -- a pretentious and utterly unreadable work.

Robert Ronsson Howard wrote: "An elegant review of -- to put it in direct language foreign to Mr. Sebald -- a pretentious and utterly unreadable work."

Thanks, Howard.

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