I was half way through this wonderful book when I read of Sebald's death in a road accident last weekend. Fortunately for us, it stands as a brilliant culmination of his four 'novels', but also shows us what we have lost.
Austerlitz has been driven to the brink of mental illness by the suppression of early childhood memories and the refusal to hear of anything that has occurred in Europe since the nineteenth century. Following his upbringing in North Wales, his life in London and his travels in Prague we see reality creeping in. Austerlitz slowly discovers himself and in doing so discovers the twentieth century for us.
Part of the pleasure of reading Sebald is the prose - measured, precise and beautifully translated - and the inclusion of photographs that contribute as much to the atmosphere as the text. There is also much of Thomas Bernhard here - the lack of paragraph breaks, the long sentences, the story told by a first person relating a long conversation with a second or third, a main character who has spent his life researching some obscure topic but will never manage to put pen to paper (Bernhard's Concrete and The Lime Works), and a preoccupation with compromised morals. There is perhaps even a nod to Bernhard with the description of the Nazi rally in Vienna's Heldenplatz - the subject of a play by Bernhard.
I was entranced by The Rings Of Saturn but Austerlitz is even better - easily the best book I read this year. That we will not have any more books like this I find unbearable at the moment.
If Austerlitz appeals to you, then do try Bernhard too - The Loser or Cutting Timber would be a good place to start.