usually a little shorter

WG Sebald, Austerlitz: “…Evan told tales of the dead… who knew they had been cheated of what was due to them and tried to return to life. If you had an eye for them they were to be seen quite often, said Evan. At first glance they seemed to be normal people, but when you looked more closely their faces would blur or flicker slightly at the edges. And they were usually a little shorter than they had been in life…” [p74/5, my ellipses.]

Evan also describes the dead as “only a little taller than the walls round the fields through which they went.”

The thing about these eerily specific images is that you aren’t being given “real” ghosts (although the anecdotes themselves have a real sense of being collected from life). They’re clues to Austerlitz’s PTSD. What he chooses to record is in itself part of his past’s mounting effort to burst out of him, but this isn’t evident until it happens. The effect is of a prolonged, almost unbearable latency. Austerlitz is a horror novel, as well as a novel of horror.

Photo: Cath Phillips

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Filed under ghosts, pictures, the horror

4 responses to “usually a little shorter

  1. jeff ford

    “Austerlitz is a horror novel, as well as a novel of horror.”
    When I read Austerlitz I remember thinking about it as a ghost story and all that implies. Almost a detailed anatomy of a ghost story, if that makes any sense. Hope you’re doing well these days.

  2. uzwi

    Hi Jeff. I think so. The tone is pitch-perfect, the mounting sense of pursuit extraordinary. The more determinedly Austerlitz looks away from the ghost, the clearer it becomes to us. I found the same with The Emigrants, especially “Max Ferber”. Marvellous writing.

    I’m doing ok, thanks. & you ?

  3. jeff ford

    Despite my kids’ best efforts, I’m trying to relax this summer. Your post reminded me what a tonic Sebald is. I’ve yet to read The Emigrants, so I think I’ll give that one a spin. Thanks.

  4. uzwi

    >>Despite my kids’ best efforts, I’m trying to relax this summer.

    Best of luck with that.