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Mr Norris Changes Trains: Christopher Isherwood (Vintage classics)

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Although it’s never quite clear exactly what is being imported or exported, whatever it is, it doesn’t appear to be entirely above board. This sounds wonderful – I’ve always rather avoided Isherwood, mainly because I wasn’t a fan of Cabaret back in the day. His features are somewhat out of kilter, not least his chin which appears to have slipped sideways ‘like a broken concertina,’ plus he’s wearing a wig. In line with Isherwood's other works, descriptions are light and airy rather than overdone to the point that they become meaningless, and they allow the story to continue easily.

While working as a private tutor in Berlin in the 1930s, the English author Christopher Isherwood wrote Mr Norris Changes Trains, a novel set in the city during the final years of the Weimar Republic. While the author's later disillusionment with his own work might have some basis in reality, I found MNCT to be enjoyable nonetheless. As the novel reaches its climax Norris is out of money again and being blackmailed by a former associate who obviously wishes him ill. There are strong homosexual overtones and an overpowering combination of the games and deceits of both the spy and gay worlds of the era; the 'honey trap' being a prime example. My dad was born in 1931, and a lot of the food he liked was the food his mum used to make when he was growing up, based around rationing and lack of fresh goods.The novel is almost a chronological account of their friendship, which includes Norris’ frequent disappearances and reappearances and fluctuating finances, whilst William speculates about the reasons behind this with rather naïve assumptions.

When Mr Norris is summoned to an interview with the police about his activities, Bradshaw waits for him on a bench “shared by a fat Jewish slum-lawyer”. Bradshaw meets the eponymous Mr Norris, striking up a conversation with him as a way to pass time on a long train journey. Mr Norris is a trained Ophthalmologist who has developed a specialist interest in oculoplastic (eyelid), lacrimal (tear duct) and orbital (eye socket) surgery.The character of Mr Norris was inspired by the memoirist, critic and internationalist, Gerald Hamilton, a friend of Isherwood’s from his Berlin days. It seems that Norris has lived for some time in Germany but he also seems to have lived everywhere else. The Lost was initially planned as a much more comprehensive work, but Isherwood jettisoned much of the material and many of the characters, including Sally Bowles, the Nowaks and the Landauers, to focus on Mr Norris. He is a current examiner for the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and an Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer in Ophthalmology at the University of Oxford.

The correction of simple eyelid malpositions such as ectropion (out-turning of the lower eyelid), entropion (in-turning) and ptosis (drooping of the upper eyelids). On his first visit to Norris’ flat, for example, Norris’ secretary, Schmidt, has a major argument with a man who insists on seeing Norris, while Norris and Bradshaw are listening on the other side of the door. On New Year’s Eve, Norris introduces Bradshaw to the mysterious Kuno, the nickname of Baron Pregnitz. By using the Web site, you confirm that you have read, understood, and agreed to be bound by the Terms and Conditions. Isherwood himself finalizes this viewpoint, quoted in Isherwood: a Life by Peter Parker (2005), by stating his novel is a ‘…story about a real city in which human beings were suffering the miseries of political violence…’.Eventually, Isherwood makes his disdain for the Nazis, and for the sleepwalking Germans who chose not to oppose them, a little more obvious.

Many of his works are more like diaries than plot driven stories, but the journey is very enjoyable even if the destination isn't very exciting. Characters are either not quite what they seem, or are employing a persona to get what they want from others or, like Bradshaw, don’t quite know yet who they are. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that the material is credited and referenced to JacquiWine’s Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. I believe that this novel gives a clear, and perhaps alternative view to most, of what the German population really thought and felt towards Hitler and fascism.Norris, with his strange manners, ill-fitting wig and suspicious passport, intrigues the somewhat detached and sarcastic Bradshaw. Overall the experience seemed to me like life scene viewed though the eyes of a third person observer, who was there on the spot but detached from it all. Norris seemingly has a fetish for boots, and finds enjoyment in sadomasochism with Olga as his mistress. Isherwood began writing the book in 1934, while he and his companion Heinz Neddermayer were living in the Canary Islands. He decided not to take monastic vows, but he remained a Hindu for the rest of his life, serving, praying, and lecturing in the temple every week and writing a biography, Ramakrishna and His Disciples (1965).

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