Night Train to Lisbon
Original German cover
|Publisher||Carl Hanser Verlag|
Published in English
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|Pages||438 pp first paperback English Edition|
|ISBN||German ISBN 3-446-20555-1, English Paperback ISBN 978-0-8021-4397-6|
Night Train to Lisbon is a philosophical novel by Swiss writer Pascal Mercier. It recounts the travels of Swiss Classics instructor Raimund Gregorius as he explores the life of Amadeu de Prado, a Portuguese doctor, during António de Oliveira Salazar's right-wing dictatorship in Portugal. Prado is a serious thinker whose active mind becomes evident in a series of his notes collected and read by Gregorius.
The book was originally published in German as Nachtzug nach Lissabon in 2004 and was first published in English in 2008. The novel became an international bestseller. Danish film director Bille August adapted the book into a 2013 film of the same name, starring Jeremy Irons as Raimund Gregorius.
Raimund Gregorius is a teacher at a Swiss gymnasium in modern day Bern, expert in ancient languages (Greek, Latin and Hebrew). He encounters a mysterious woman, which leads him to find an intriguing book. To understand its author, Amadeu de Prado, he abandons his teaching position and goes to Lisbon, where he investigates Prado and Prado's associates.
Amadeu de Prado was a doctor who lived during the Salazar Dictatorship, which began in 1928 and ended in 1974. Prado had a strong interest in literature and, because of this awareness, begins questioning the world, the experiences he knows, and the words contained in conversation and written thought. He writes these ideas in a series of notes and journal entries which his sister, Adriana, edits and publishes. His life and his thoughts are strongly influenced by the dictatorship around him. His father is a judge. Prado saves the life of Mendez, the Regime's Chief of Secret Police, and, in reaction to others' criticism of him, joins the resistance movement.
The dictatorship lasted until 1974 and relied heavily upon a brutal secret police force, the PIDE. Salazar himself died in 1970, two years after he had handed over power to Marcel Caetano, who continued his policies until the Carnation Revolution of 1974 overthrew the regime.
Night Train to Lisbon spends considerable time contemplating ideas, exploring on one hand Gregorious' contemplation of self and the other de Prado's journal and philosophies. Epigraphs include Michel de Montaigne, Essais, Second Book, I, “De l’inconstance de nos actions” and Fernando Pessoa, Livro do Desassossego. Mercier uses various activities and subthemes to help explore these deep, self-reflective subjects including "night journeys, insomnia and dream-filled sleep, of being stuck in place yet somehow adrift, and confusion about life's purpose." With this introspective approach, Mercier is able to review concepts of "who we are, how we control our experience of life, and how fragile that construction is."
Like the depiction of the city of Lisbon as mysterious and intricate, the text of Night Train to Lisbon is intricate and complicated, sometimes withholding information from the reader. Multiple reviewers also pointed to the thriller qualities the novel takes on despite the philosophical focus of the themes.
Anne Phillips in The News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, IL) noted that Night Train to Lisbon was "reminiscent of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind and commented that "mystery romance and political intrigue" keep the pages turning. Robert Moyle of the Herald Sun also points out how engaging Night Train to Lisbon is, pointing out how easy it is for the reader to identify with Gregorius. Daniel Johnson of The Telegraph placed Mercier, with this novel, amongst the best European novelists alive.
- Paul, Steve (June 9, 2008). "Suggestions for all you Night time readers". The Kansas City Star. (Accessed in NewsBank Database (Requires Subscription))
- MacKin, Laurence (February 14, 2009). "The Irish Times: Go Read". Irish Times. (Accessed in NewsBank Database (Requires subscription))
- Moyle, Robin (June 7, 2008). "Riddle in Portuguese". Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). (Accessed on NewsBank database (Subscription required)
- Johnson, Daniel (24 Feb 2008). "Throwing in one life to look for another". Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 24 April 2011.
- Phillips, Anne (August 9, 2009). "Works mix, ponder illusions and reality". The News-Gazette (Champaign-Urbana, IL). (Accessed in NewsBank database (Requires subscription))