...Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon delves into the question of national and personal identity, contains a text within a novel and explicitly invokes the tale of Odysseus and his 20-year journey through pain toward self-knowledge ... Mercier has built his plot on escapist fantasy, and put the Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar’s authoritarian regime at the core of his inquiry ... Mercier’s hero is a dried-up Swiss classics teacher, Raimund (Mundus) Gregorius, whose late-life crisis begins when he encounters a distraught Portuguese woman on a bridge in Bern. Ditching his classroom, Gregorius takes off for Lisbon...wording is so dense and overwrought, and Barbara Harshav’s translation so ham-handed, that unpacking each sentence is like decoding a cryptic crossword in hieroglyphs ...struggles with the philosophical task of creating an authentic self in the absence of available role models.
One problem with Night Train to Lisbon is that its plot, if plot is the word for it, consists almost entirely of talk — talk, talk, talk — about people and events in the past. The effect of this endless conversation is numbing rather than stimulating ...it's never really clear here whether the central story belongs to Gregorius or to Prado, and there's scarcely a hint of dramatic tension as Gregorius stumbles his way toward what he learns about Prado ...his fiction offers the kind of intellectual puzzles and trickery that many readers love in the work of Umberto Eco, but there are no such pleasures to be found here ... Night Train to Lisbon never engages the reader, in particular never makes the reader care about Gregorius. It's an intelligent book, all right, but there's barely a breath of life in it.
A middle-aged Swiss high-school teacher browsing in a second-hand bookshop comes across a collection of essays by a writer he has never heard of, in a language (Portuguese) he has never studied ... Such is the conceit that propels Night Train to Lisbon, an ambitious novel by Pascal Mercier...makes literary hero-worship a kind of theme, showing it to be, by turns, an intellectual quest, an act of self-discovery and, in the case of his earnest main character, a disturbing obsession ... Readers may feel exhaustion more than enlightenment ...Gregorius is simply too dull to inspire much concern. The already slow narrative breaks periodically for generous quotations from Prado's prose... The idea of stepping into the world of a beloved book and virtually inhabiting the life of its author is a seductive one. But Night Train to Lisbon is not likely to stir such longings.
...a man's soul (here manifested as a distraught woman speaking a foreign tongue) sends a message of distress that provokes a midlife shift, a repudiation of the world, a turning inward. A sacred text is found, a new language undertaken, a spiritual journey begun ... Night Train to Lisbon is the third novel of Swiss author Peter Bieri, a philosophy professor writing under the pseudonym Pascal Mercier ...a very long, ambitious book that's feverishly overwritten. It begs comparison with Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, another international blockbuster featuring overheated prose and a mysterious book-within-the-book ...partly a disquisition on language, consisting of various personal, philosophical ruminations strewn through the novel as counterpoint to Gregorius' journey ... Ornate language and melodrama persist throughout.
...not a typical best-seller. It is a meditative novel that builds an uncanny power through a labyrinth of memories and philosophical concepts that illuminate the narrative from within, just as its protagonist will discover the shadows of his neglected soul by bringing the story of another man into the light ... One of the great pleasures of reading Night Train to Lisbon are passages (sometimes quite long) of Prado's pensées (thoughts) that Gregorius translates throughout - more and more facilely as he gets a purchase on Portuguese: dense, provocative snippets that contain startling and original philosophical conceits and questions...a conflict right out of modern philosophy and worth noting... The writing indeed has a seasoned quality to it, as though the ideas themselves have gestated for decades, and then through a creative alchemy, crystallized into a book that manages to be both a narrative and a philosophical work ...a rare reading pleasure.
This overarching novel has been a huge international best-seller for the past five years, encompassing the lifelong meditations of one man and the ruminations of another in search of himself ...filled not with mere nuggets of wisdom but with a mother lode of insight, introspection and an honest, self-conscious person's illuminations of all the dark corners of his own soul ... The many subplots in Night Train to Lisbon include Gregorius' fascination with languages, ancient and modern, his ramblings through the settings of Amadeu's life, almost like a madman, and his putting together of the pieces of the puzzle that was Amadeu's life ... Mercier has captured a time in history — one of the times — when men must take a stand.
An elegant meditative book teaches a painfully ironic life lesson in German-Swiss author Mercier’s searching 2004 novel...who learns the lesson is 50ish Raimund Gregorius, a philologist who teaches Latin, Greek and Hebrew at a Swiss high school—until an unknown woman excites the scholar’s interest in an obscure book of philosophical observations penned by an equally unknown Portuguese author. Impulsively abandoning his academic responsibilities, Gregorius acquires the rare volume, ponders its contents and travels to Lisbon to research the life of its “vanished” author ...nearer Gregorius comes to the truth of Prado’s passionate commitment, the more insistent becomes the question he asks himself: 'Had he perhaps missed a possible life, one he could easily have lived with his abilities and knowledge?' It’s the age-old intellectual’s dilemma, considered in a compelling blend of suspenseful narrative and discursive commentary... intriguing fiction only occasionally diluted by redundancy and by Mercier’s overuse of the metaphor of a train journey.
...Raimund Gregorius is a gifted but dull 57-year-old high school classical languages teacher in Switzerland. After a chance meeting with a Portuguese woman in the rain, he discovers the work of a Portuguese poet and doctor, Amadeu de Prado... Transfixed by the work, Gregorius boards a train for Lisbon, bent on discovering Prado's fate and on uncovering more of his work ...artful unspooling of Prado's fraught life is richly detailed: full of surprises and paradoxes, it incorporates a vivid rendering of the Portuguese resistance to Salazar ... Long philosophical interludes in Prado's voice may not play as well in the U.S., but the book comes through on the enigmas of trying to live and write under fascism.