Saturday, 2 June 2012
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.