Thursday, February 5, 2009

Night Train to Lisbon - Pascal Mercier

This book was recommended to me by my mom's friend Edie - who likened it to Shadow of the Wind, one of the best books I've read in the past couple years. Needless to say, I was excited to check it out. Night Train to Lisbon focuses on Raimond Gregrorius (Mundus), a studious linguistiscs professor in Switzerland. Mundus appears to live a relatively mundane existence with a predictable schedule. One day, however, he encouters a mysterious Portuguese woman. The encounter unnerves him and leads him to discover a book written by a Portuguese doctor named Prado. Uncharacteristically, Mundus drops everything and takes the train to Lisbon to unearth what he can about this mysterious man. In Portugal, he meets family and long-lost friends of the author revealing secrets of Prado's past. Mercier intersperses the narrative with excerpts from Prado's book, and the reader follows the intellectual development of Prado along with Mundus's journey of self-discovery. There are hints along the way the suggest Mundus is viewing the entire experience through a distorted lens. The most blatant is Mundus's continual problems with his eyeglasses, but there are multiple questions about whether Mundus's telling of his adventure is accurate. I did not find this book as enjoyable as Shadow of the Wind, but this could be a function of the narrator, and that I tend to prefer books with child narrators. In many ways, Mundus was not a narrator with whom I could identify. Yet, this is an interesting book from a literary perspective - in terms of what one can learn about another person from their writings, and the lengths to which writing can take you - both emotionally and physically.

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