Seemed like a book with a lot of promise. I started because I saw the trailer for the movie. It still looks pretty good, actually. But I felt like I should read the book first, which was a mistake.
[SPOILER ALERT: They’re further down, so if you’re avoiding, be warned].
I struggled to care much about the protagonist, Gregorious, who feels grey and translucent; more a point of view the author’s navigating around Lisbon (yes, the train gets there) than a real person. Amadeu, the person whose character fascinates Gregorious and becomes an obsession, feels – a little unreal, a sort of archetypal existentialist who lives deliberately, but whom as a reader I also struggled to care about.
Aside from the characters, it felt as though there wasn’t much going on in the plot. Yes, Gregorious ups and leaves a life lived as a schoolteacher, and recounts his failed marriage. But partially because I struggled to care about him as a person and partially because none of what was happening was intrinsically interesting, it was a struggle to wade through all of his reminiscing. Amadeu does have an interesting life at points, but much of that is told second-hand, or even implied. Which can have a time and a place, but I think it’s hard to make that an entire novel, and this one certainly didn’t work.
If a good book is about interesting things happening to interesting people, then this one didn’t tick either box for me. The ideas, too, were mildly interesting, but felt as though they were something the author had written into his journal, rather than ideas he’d thought through fully, or really fleshed out in his characters.
All up, it took me a while to get through this one, and it was a struggle. But then I picked up No country for old men by Cormac McCarthy and loved it, and I’m almost halfway through already.