Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Mr Norris Changes Trains

Title: Mr Norris Changes Trains (known in the US as The Last of Mr Norris)

Author: Christopher Isherwood

Number of pages: 240

Started: 15 November 2010

Finished: 17 November 2010

Opening words:

My first impression was that the stranger's eyes were of an unusually light blue.
They met mine for several blank seconds, vacant, unmistakably scared. Startled and innocently naughty, they half reminded me of an incident I couldn't quite place; something which had happened a long time ago, to do with the upper fourth form classroom. They were the eyes of a schoolboy surprised in the act of breaking one of the rules. Not that I had caught him, apparently, at anything except his own thoughts; perhaps he imagined I could read them. At any rate, he seemed not to have heard or seen me cross the compartment from my corner to his own, for he started violently at the sound of my voice; so violently, indeed, that his nervous recoil hit me like repercussion. Instinctively I took a place backwards.

It was exactly as though we had collided with each other bodily in the street. We were both confused, both ready to be apologetic. Smiling, anxious to reassure him, I repeated my question:
'I wonder, sir, if you could let me have a match?'

Plot summary:

After a chance encounter on a train the English teacher William Bradshaw starts a close friendship with the mildly sinister Arthur Norris. Norris is a man of contradictions; lavish but heavily in debt, excessively polite but sexually deviant.

What I thought:

The copy of this book I read was actually The Berlin Stories, which includes this novel and the, perhaps better known, Goodbye to Berlin (which the musical Cabaret is based on), intending only to read the latter. However, as it turned out, I decided to read this book first as I thought it might set the scene better to then read Goodbye to Berlin.

Both books are set in Fascist Germany and Mr Norris Changes Trains was set in the early 1930s and showed the strange story that unfolded after the chance meeting of two men on a train. In many ways it was a light hearted read about serious and sinister events in Germany at that time, but the underlying message was one of the evil that was to come. It was an enjoyable read and I will look forward to reading Goodbye to Berlin, but now have the Costa shortlist to read in advance of that.

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