Mr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood

When I read Goodbye to Berlin, I innocently thought that the anti-semitism in it belonged to the characters. Now, reading Mr Norris Changes Trains, I see that isn’t so. The anti-semitic comments are gratuitously those of the author. Still, I wondered. If he were living in Germany, was it that he felt it made him safe throwing in just a few words in a few places to prove his credentials?

But now I see that his private words have always been littered with this abhorrent attitude, the more so since he lived in Berlin and must have known what was happening.

For me that’s a game-changer. Mr Norris Changes Trains was not a special book and now it’s a repugnant one. Uggh, Mr Isherwood. I say Goodbye to you. Should you get on my train I will change to another one.

On the other hand, perhaps one can learn something from such a book. Perhaps it explains an entire class of English with their armour of scornful prejudices protecting them from the real world as they engaged in their wasteful frivolity.

The fact is that it is easy to read and tells a story of the period and place which is worth reading if you can stomach knowing where Isherwood’s feelings lay.

If….

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

I can see why people aren’t universally in love with this one. It seems a bit like a patchwork quilt, part of it stitched together, but lots of bits adrift, not sewn in, not altogether abandoned¬†either.

But I think that this is exactly as Tyler wanted it to be. Life. The story is clear, the story isn’t. It starts, stops, might do this, might do that. Random chance determines what happens – the author might have been playing I Ching. I wonder if she has ever done that. Well, it isn’t the way I want the story to go, she thinks to herself, but okay. Life says come this way. Doesn’t always explain itself. Shows the ways people deal with their own deficiencies. The relationship between Junior and hyphenated-wife is splendid. She does old people fabulously, but then, why wouldn’t she? I remain unconvinced by any of the younger ones, that is to say younger ones that we don’t see get old. Denny, Stem, Nora etc.

If I were forced to rank every Anne Tyler book I’d read, this would be down the bottom somewhere, but this doesn’t make it a bad book. Just not a great one.

For an indepth review, I liked The Guardian‘s which you can find here.