Tuesday, 15 March 2016

"If you liked SHADOW OF THE WIND, you'll love .....

NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON

Well, that's what the back cover promises. And on the front cover Isabel Allende calls this "One of the best books I have read in a long time." An endorsement from the author of The House of the Spirits, and comparisons with Carlos Ruiz Zafon's modern masterpiece: who could resist? Sad to report, I somewhat wish I had.

Shortly after saving a beautiful Portuguese woman from suicide, Raimund Gregorius, a middle-aged Swiss teacher, comes across a book of modern philosophy by an obscure Portuguese doctor turned revolutionary during the time of Salazar. Gregorius abandons Bern for Lisbon and a quest to learn more about the mysterious author (and, the reader must surely hope, re-encounter the equally mysterious lady). It's a long and slow journey, almost entirely comprised of encounters with men and women who knew and loved/admired Amadeu de Prado. The author punctuates the narrative with chunks of Prado's sententious prose. 

This is not an easy read. The book is well written (and translated) but the passion that drives Allende's writing is missing, and so is the undistilled magic of Zafon's. The prevailing (albeit prejudiced) view of the Swiss is that they are staid, precise, somewhat dull. And that's how Night Train to Lisbon felt to me through most of its 430 pages. The slow unravelling of a mystery was the core element in John Fowles's splendid The Magus, the first modern epic (1966) on a slightly 'supernatural' theme. But there just isn't enough mystery in Lisbon; and the ending was a disappointment.

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