My friend Thalassa recently lent me her copy of Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, translated from the German. Our tastes are highly confluent, so I was ready and primed for something delicious. And indeed it is.

This book cast a spell on me. I don’t know what other language I could use to describe my reaction. To use the term “cast a spell” epitomizes occultiness (akin to Colbert’s truthiness) and a problematic term to use to describe an overwhelming attraction to a work of art, music or literature. But there is something about this kind of reaction that is different from the usual: the quality of the energetics is of another order. It is a response that is more than being “deeply touched”, “awed by the skill”, “overwhelmed by the beauty”, “fabulously rendered”, “masterfully constructed”—all terms that fall short. So I’m going with spell cast.

Night Train is a book that quickly divides the world into two groups—those that hate it and those that love it. A quick run through the 30+ reviews on Amazon gives graphic demonstration of an essentially bifurcated response to this very European novel (Pascal Mercier is actually Peter Bieri in real life, a Swiss writer, philosopher and professor.) For plot-loving readers this read is truly a wash out. But Mercier has mastered another way to engage the mind that is unlike any other book I know.

There are so many things about they way the story is told (and yes there is a story) that I find astounding. Characters dead and alive all come to cohabit the space of the novel. The narrative voice is often in the form of written treatises about moral philosophy, personal identity, meaning, cognition. That does sound awfully dry when I write those words, doesn’t it? Perhaps I should stop here and just say, give it a try. You will know by page 50 if this is going to put you in a space capsule and shoot you to another galaxy far, far away.

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