Title: Nighttrain to Lisbon
Author: Pascal Mercier
Publisher: Grove Press
My rating: ★★★★★
After reading many romance, fantasy and young adult novels, it felt like it was time to move on to something more serious. A couple of months ago I picked this book from my mum’s bookshelf so I decided it was about time to read it and return it to her. It might not be the most logical choice for someone who is 36 weeks pregnant though…
What the book is about
A huge international best seller, this ambitious novel plumbs the depths of our shared humanity to offer up a breathtaking insight into life, love, and literature itself. A major hit in Germany that went on to become one of Europe’s biggest literary blockbusters in the last five years, Night Train to Lisbon is an astonishing novel, a compelling exploration of consciousness, the possibility of truly understanding another person, and the ability of language to define our very selves. Raimund Gregorius is a Latin teacher at a Swiss college who one day—after a chance encounter with a mysterious Portuguese woman—abandons his old life to start a new one. He takes the night train to Lisbon and carries with him a book by Amadeu de Prado, a (fictional) Portuguese doctor and essayist whose writings explore the ideas of loneliness, mortality, death, friendship, love, and loyalty. Gregorius becomes obsessed by what he reads and restlessly struggles to comprehend the life of the author. His investigations lead him all over the city of Lisbon, as he speaks to those who were entangled in Prado’s life. Gradually, the picture of an extraordinary man emerges—a doctor and poet who rebelled against Salazar’s dictatorship.
What I think about the book
Raimund Gregorius is exactly how I would imagine a Latin teacher, in fact, he could be the younger version of the Latin teacher that I knew when I was attending the gymnasium here back in 1996. Mr Visser was just like him, a single guy, who loved routine and knew his languages better than one could imagine. He was kind to his students and we all loved him, and I bet most of us still have fond memories of his classes. So yeah, I could totally see mr Gregorius walking around like that and I liked him from the beginning.
I have read the Dutch translation of this book, but I could see that Pascal Mercier has a love for beautiful words. The translation was wonderful and I loved the way the languages were used throughout the whole novel. Sometimes a novel can be really beautiful and poetic in a way that it is impossible not to love it. Yes, I do love reading ‘fast paced and easy written’ novels a lot, but sometimes my mind just wants more food for thought. Beautiful words and some philosophic thoughts are good for my soul from time to time. This was exactly that kind of story.
Raimond Gregorius is searching for people who have known the author (Amadeu de Prado) of a Portuguese book he has found in a bookstore in Bern. In the beginning I found it really exciting to read about the life, friends and family of de Prado, but halfway through the book I desperately wanted to know more about Raimond Gregorius himself. Fortunately the author seems to agree and he has added some background information and some thoughts of Gregorius to the story. Suddenly you get to see life and Lissabon through his eyes.
Amadeu de Prado’s words kind of touched my soul. I can relate to a lot of the topics, such as loneliness, being homesick or how well we actually know ourselves and others. Those are things I have often thought about myself. I could have written those down, as if they were a conversation with myself, but I have always kept those words inside me. It is lovely that Pascal Mercier has found a way, a story, to fit them in. It was really nice to read that and it makes me wonder if I should write more often. It somehow made me realize how much I think about stuff and how I am keeping it all to myself. I do appreciate it when a book makes me think.
While the life of Amadeu de Prado is over, Gregorius still has his in front of him. I would have loved to know what would happen next. It seems to have ended too soon. On the other hand, this story wasn’t just about Gregorius and his journey and the story had to end somewhere. I guess what happens next is not what’s important here. The important thing is that Gregorius actually got up and left his old life, that he finally had the courage to explore something else and that he thought about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. It is something that many people dream about and most people are too scared to actually proceed. After all, you know what you’ve got right now and what’s out there is a big mystery…