Saturday, 2 June 2012

Last Train to Lisbon - Pascal Mercier (Portugal)

This is the phenomenal international bestseller, now in paperback. 'A treat for the mind. One of the best books I have read in a long time' - Isabel Allende.Raimund Gregorius is a mild-mannered, middle-aged professor of ancient languages. One morning, as he is teaching, he is seized by a restlessness that drives him to abandon his classroom then and there - shocking his students, and surprising even himself. His unusual impulsiveness is driven by two chance encounters - with a mysterious Portuguese woman in a red coat; and with a book he finds hidden in a dusty corner of a second-hand bookshop, the journal of an enigmatic Portuguese aristocrat, Amadeu de Prado.With the book as his talisman, Raimund boards the night train to Lisbon on a journey to find out more about Prado, whose words haunt and compel him. Gradually, a picture of an extraordinary man emerges: a difficult, brilliant, charismatic figure, a doctor and a poet, and a rebel against Salazar's dictatorship. And as Prado's story comes to light so, too, Gregorius himself begins his life anew. Hurtling through the dark, "Night Train to Lisbon" is a rich tale, wonderfully told, propelled by the mystery at its heart.

Author Pascal Mercier is a Swiss born (although currently living in Berlin) author with a degree in philosophy. This is his third novel, the first of which has been translated into English.

This was sadly for me, one of those books that promised a lot but seemed to deliver very little. Maybe it was the lack of plot, or issues with the translation (there were several typos that I found and words that had been repeated), but I found this book incredibly hard to get into, and it was a real struggle to complete.

This is a shame, as there is much philosophy within its pages, as one would expect from an author with this pedigree, but there seemed very little substance to the story. It is essentially the tale of a language scholar who nearing retirement, starts to question his life. One day on his way to the university where he works, he comes across a Portuguese woman reading a letter, whom he believes is about to jump off a bridge. She doesn't, but she is obviously agitated, and so he helps her and takes her back to the university. There is something about this woman that sets our hero Gregorius, on a quest to find out more about the womans homeland, and so he wanders into a bookshop and finds an old  manuscript written in her mother tongue by a Portuguese Doctor and philosopher that desptite having no knowledge of the language, he starts to translate. This ultimately leads him to take the night train to Lisbon, hence the title of the book.

Once there, he sets off to discover as much as he can about the man behind this book - his past and his motivations, and along the way, makes a few discoveries about himself, although it is never made clear exactly what these are.

For me this book was really more a collection of quotes from the Portuguese philosopher than about the narrator himself, and the story seemed to lack any real oomph or substance. Maybe it one of those books that you need to read more than once in order to 'get it' but I doubt if I would, as it was such a laborious read the first time around.

I am sure it would appeal to some, and the author is undoubtedly one of life's thinkers, but unfortunately this book was not for me.   

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