Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mr Norris Changes Trains [1935]

Mr. Norris Changes Trains (referred to as The Last of Mr. Norris in the US) was the 1st of two novels that Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical The Berlin Stories comprised of, with Goodbye to Berlin; the much acclaimed volume is part of Time magazine’s ‘100 Best English-language Books of 20th Century’. Based on his experiences of residing as an expat in the Deutschland capital during early 1930s, the novel, written in exquisitely fluid English, and filled with delightful humour, sharp insights, narrative flourishes and deliberately satirical observations, painted a rich tapestry of the ironies and turbulences leading to Hitler’s rise in the country’s political arena. The story, narrated by a young man named William Bradshaw, speaks about his unlikely friendship with a mysterious middle-aged man and fellow Brit named Arthur Norris. Though largely oblivious of key details from Norris’ lives, he is drawn to the rather enigmatic world of the suave, excessively polite and seemingly aristocratic gentleman with impossibly high taste and secretive nature. However, as is gradually revealed to the unsuspecting Bradshaw and us, Norris, reeling under enormous debts, seemingly a member of the Communist Party, incessant sexual deviant and master-hatcher of dubious plots for his financial sustenance, is a man of wild personal and social contradictions who literally redefines the term ‘gray’. Bradshaw’s weary cynicism and rather detached nature despite his young age, made for memorable counterpoints with Norris’ deceptive enthusiasms and propensity for idealism; to add to the irony, the latter’s ability to effortlessly deceive others and even his own self, added wry commentaries on the era and political climate he was residing in. And, while this story was chronicled, the struggle for power between the Communists and the Nazis plays out in the background, thus making this a powerful political document as well. The title, therefore, didn’t just reinforce Norris’ slippery nature, it even alluded to the shifting tiles of the political mosaic that misled all despite ominous signposts being there for all to see.

Author: Christopher Isherwood
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Semi-Autobiographical Novel
Language: English
Country: UK