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