Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

I started and I stopped. I went on to another book, finished that, and picked up another. Then I noticed Austerlitz sitting there, always at the back of my little to-read pile, always waiting for its time. And with the return date steadily approaching, it was inevitable. But I just wish I could appreciate it more. Isn't it after all on many of the "best of" lists? Critics raved about it. Shouldn't I too be following along with my streamers and party hat?

As Austerlitz recollects his childhood in Wales, he tells the unnamed narrator that "I never shook off the feeling that something very obvious, very manifest in itself was hidden from me. Sometimes it was as if I were in a dream and trying to perceive reality..."

And that's how I felt while reading this book - like I was floating in a dream, trying my best to peer through those clouds and failing, just not seeing as clearly as other people have.

On reading this archived Salon review of Austerlitz, I wonder if I were too hasty in putting the book aside. According to the review, the "turning point" of the book is about halfway through, "and while much of the novel leading up to it at first seems meandering and perhaps even random, it is all in fact woven into Austerlitz's breakthrough and the past he has spent a lifetime evading".

But with the book due back tomorrow (and the library requiring payment for renewal), I think Austerlitz will be returned for, hopefully, a more enthusiastic reader.

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