Austerlitz started with this almost aerial view, a slow scene filmed from high above. The scene doesn’t end though, and I had to squint to make out what was even happening. Though Austerlitz was an objectively triumphant achievement in prose, I had a lot of difficulty with the book. The detachment I felt due to this aerial-ness never stopped, and I felt like everything in the book, the characters, the places, the photos, was too small for me because I was too far back in the audience to see properly. When I did become involved in the book, with the characters especially, it seemed like Sebald was actually pushing me back. There was an aggressive, lonely introversion to the prose.
For instance, not only did everything in Austerlitz feel far away, but narrative layers also obscured the meat of the book. There comes a time in Austerlitz when one should feel overwhelming emotions, at the very least be very excited to read the outcome of a chapter, or feel anxious. Instead of feeling anything like this, I felt confused and frustrated. This is because Sebald doesn’t tell the story. His main character, the narrator, doesn’t either, but Austerlitz tells the story THROUGH the narrative, with lots of “she said, Austerlitz said, to me,” type of language. It’s confusing, difficult, and draining to read an emotional story in this way, to be reading through this haze. Of course I can’t be certain that Sebald was trying to make this book unavailable, inserting these layers to make readers work harder at accessing their emotions about what they’re reading, but that’s what happened to me while reading Austerlitz.