Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier

Pascal Mercier
Night Train to Lisbon

This is an interesting and intriguing book, and quite unusual. It's a fairly slowly revealing book, but it keeps up your interest. One of main themes is a love of books and the influence books can have on lives, and I loved that the main character had been so inspired by a book that he changed his life because of it. The love and value and power of literature really shines through in this book, and is perfectly summed up by the quote, ‘There were the people who read and there were the others. Whether you were a reader or a non-reader - it was soon apparent. There was no greater distinction between people’.

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

This is an interesting and intriguing book, and quite unusual. It’s a fairly slowly revealing book, but it keeps up your interest. One of main themes is a love of books and the influence books can have on lives, and I loved that the main character had been so inspired by a book that he changed his life because of it. The love and value and power of literature really shines through in this book, and is perfectly summed up by the quote, ‘There were the people who read and there were the others. Whether you were a reader or a non-reader – it was soon apparent. There was no greater distinction between people’. 

Gregorious, who is a dedicated, mild-mannered, lonely and very private teacher in Switzerland, sees a woman about to jump off a bridge, and this makes him question the ordinary routine of his life and to wish for a dramatic change. He goes to a Portuguese bookshop to find a textbook to learn Portuguese, and also finds there an old book of thoughts and life lessons written by a Portuguese man called Amadeu de Prado in 1975. He then abandons his class and career and takes the night train to Lisbon in Portugal to find out more about this author. He speaks to strangers there and makes friends and follows a laborious trail towards Prado, learning he was a doctor of extreme intelligence with a crippled father and an obsessive sister, and that he saved the life of one of Salazar’s (the Portuguese dictator) henchman and was then ostracised by the community for this act, so then secretly joined the Resistance. 

The book is a mix of the two characters, Gregorious and Prado, and we gradually learn more about both of them, and their characters are slowly revealed. Prado seems a complex person, highly intelligent and advanced but also prone to low mood, extremely focused and determined and single-minded and driven but often alone, with a father that committed suicide and a sister that seems now to be dangerously obsessed with him. 

The trail Gregorious goes on and the clues he learns and the people he meets are all very interesting. The dictatorship in Portugal is also fascinating, though disturbing and difficult to read at times. I didn’t know much at all about Salazar, who sounds very similar to Spain’s dictator, Franco. Prado’s life lessons and philosophical thoughts in his book are often quoted, and I was fully prepared to be inspired by them and to aim to remember them, but (maybe it was me) they didn’t really grab me or resonate with me or fill me with wonder.

The story ended a bit oddly and frustratingly, I felt, with Gregorious’ health failing and him returning to Switzerland to be admitted into hospital, after he has been accepted by all the people in Lisbon that he sought out for info and them caring for him and depending on him and wanting him to stay, and him having a positive influence on their lives. It almost seems like he is suffering from a similar brain tumour to Prado, and I was left wondering if he survives or not.

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

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