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4.3 out of 5 stars
40
4.3 out of 5 stars
Mr Norris Changes Trains
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on 6 October 2017
UnmissAble for anyone who enjoys witty writing and has an interest in 1930s Berlin. This is where Caberet comes from.
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on 21 January 2015
This is a classic. A portrait of an unscrupulous excentric viewed clearly but without judgement against the background of Weimar Germany and the rise of Hitler very tellingly revealed.
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on 4 August 2017
Unusual story and enjoyed
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on 7 April 2014
Berlin, 1930's, -a wonderful novel that's semi- autobiographical about Isherwood's sojourn in pre-second world war Berlin. Would recommend to anyone who likes a well written novel.
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on 14 April 2016
I can roughly divide my life into times when I have a good book on the go and times when I am searching for the next one.

Raiding a friend's bookshelf while cat-sitting for him, I found Mr Norris, which I read many years ago.

For me there are a handful of perfect books in the world: Nancy Mitford's "Love in a Cold Climate", Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall", the biographies written by Selina Hastings - and two early books by Isherwood - this one, and "Goodbye to Berlin".

Point one: the style is immaculate: there is not a jarring phrase or sentence or word anywhere in the book.

Point two: Isherwood draws us into his characters, not into the author himself.

Point three: he delineates his characters with the lightest touch imaginable.

Point four: he does not emote.

Point five: he is very, very amusing. This is not a laugh-aloud book, but the world be portrays is somehow a delight for the reader, if not for the participants.

Just wonderful.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 May 2016
Christopher Isherwood, inextricably associated with W.H.Auden and Stephen Spender, represents a kind of educated, literary, urbane Englishness, but with interests outside provincial England. Left wing, fairly openly homosexual (when it was illegal) intellectual, finely crafted poets, playwrights and or novelists. And sometimes moving between more than one genre, and even collaborating as writers.

Cambridge educated – though he never finished his degree, Isherwood was drawn to the decadent, artistically modern, politically volatile city of Berlin at the tail end of the twenties and early thirties.

In this book, - and in his more well-known one, Goodbye to Berlin – mainly because it was later turned into the movie, Cabaret – he recounts his experiences in that city, as political instability intensified, and lines of allegiance became sharply drawn, and the Nazi party, initially regarded as a kind of loony fringe, not to be taken seriously, began its terrifying rise.

Isherwood casts himself as William Bradshaw, a young man, eager for the experience of living in another country, earning his living by teaching English to private students. Bradshaw meets the eponymous Mr Norris, striking up a conversation with him as a way to pass time on a long train journey.

“As he spoke he touched his left temple delicately with his finger-tips, coughed, and suddenly smiled. His smile had great charm. It disclosed the ugliest teeth I had ever seen. They were like broken rocks”

Norris is another Englishman, middle-aged, dissolute, clearly a not-to-be trusted wheeler-dealer of some kind, but his distinctly eccentric physical persona, and a strangely appealing charm, despite the obvious dishonesty, amuse Bradshaw, and the two form an unlikely friendship. Norris’s fastidious oddness - the wearing of bizarre wigs and an obsessive attention to prinkings and powderings not usually found at that time openly engaged in by English men, certainly not in England, is typical of the Berlin experience – decadent, sophisticated and utterly unprovincial, which proved alluring about to those seeking a more colourful, even dangerous, European experience. Norris, it later transpires, has predilections for a kind of wholesome sexual deviancy – he is open about his relations with a dominatrix and her ‘minder’ a young man who is a member of the Communist Party. It fact Anni, the whore, AND her minder Otto, are regarded as friends by Norris.

Political affiliations are centre stage everywhere. Isherwood, and Norris choose the Left, even though Norris is not necessarily, ever, quite what he seems, and may have fingers in many pies, as he also has some friends whose political allegiance seem to belong more naturally to the right.

What is marvellous about Isherwood’s writing, a kind of story telling journalism, an exploration of what it was like to be in Berlin, is that although he is undoubtedly writing about a period which became very dark and very dreadful, the second of his Berlin books, particularly, this is the undercurrent, flowing underneath a brilliant, light-touch observation. A sense of frenetic life, liveliness, wit and urbanity drive the book along, there is certainly more than a touch of fiddling whilst Rome burns about the Weimar republic.

Norris himself is a quite extraordinary creation, and, just as Bradshaw is Isherwood’s novelising himself, Norris has a real origin – a friend of Isherwood’s, Gerald Hamilton, also a writer, and once known as ‘the wickedest man in Europe’. Hamilton was served time in prison for bankruptcy, theft, being a threat to national security, and, interestingly, numbered amongst his friends not only Isherwood himself, but the unlikely combination of Winston Churchill and Aleister Crowley!

The reader quite falls, as Bradshaw does, under his dubious charm, and it is a strange experience to find oneself appreciating the strange moral ambiguity of someone who would undoubtedly sell his own grannie to the highest bidder, yet, somehow, even whilst grannie might even know that herself, he comes across as naughty, rather than vicious. Or, as Isherwood/Bradshaw puts it, so much more elegantly at the start of the novel:

“My first impression was that the stranger’s eyes were of an unusually light blue. They met mine for several blank seconds, vacant, unmistakably scared. Startled and innocently naughty, they half reminded me of an incident I couldn’t quite place; something which had happened a long time ago, to do with the upper fourth classroom. They were the eyes of a schoolboy surprised in the act of breaking one of the rules. Not that I had caught him, apparently, at anything except his own thoughts; perhaps he imagined I could read them”
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on 9 December 2009
I had no idea what to expect from this. I had read about Isherwood on a visit to Berlin and had an idea that the musical Cabaret has something to do with him. On that basis I decided to give this book a go. From the start it is apparent that Isherwood was a very talented writer. Mr Norris, as seen through the eyes of the narrator Bradshaw, is wonderfully weird and enigmatic. His impeccable manners and gentile conversation clearly obfuscate something much murkier right from Bradshaw's first encounter with him on a Berlin bound train. As the novel progresses, Bradshaw is lead naively but entirely willingly through 1930s Berlin's mesmerising whirl of restaurants and clubs and introduced to a broad array of unusual and engaging characters. Whilst there is not a great deal of reference to the political situation, apart from Norris hilariously setting himself up as a leading Communist, there are plenty of colourful mentions of the decadent behaviour associated with Weimar Berlin including drug-fuelled parties, sadistic uniformed mistresses and a German Baron obsessed with English boys-own adventure stories. Isherwood's skill lies primarily in his ability to hold firm to the writers mantra of `show don't tell'. At no point does he try to tell us what to think about these characters or situations. Instead by describing in detail their conversations and behaviour through the filter of his wide-eyed but ever-watchful narrator he invites us to form distinct and lasting impressions of our own.
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on 6 July 2013
This novel describes well the decadence of pre-Hitler's Germany: dining cars on trains, made-up jobs to save unemployment, German bureaucracy with its officials hurrying about with files.

It also portrays effeminacy: `Held my hand for long time', welcomed me to the shadow of my humble roof-tree', a greybeard with one foot in the tomb. How cruel youth is, was too delicate to go to school, had a house full of bronzed boys who played practical jokes on him, beautiful things-the flesh cannot give us happiness, only the spirit, `So particular..more like a lady than a gentleman', thinning eyebrows, not plucking, never shaves himself, potions and lotions, a suit for every day, nine years' money spent in two and silk underclothes.

Baron (Kuno) von Pregnitz wears a monocle, `tortured himself daily on an electric horse', has `taken a great fancy to you', his `foot pressed on mine under the table, his `hand took mine under the fur rug' in car, invites him in, he devoted himself entirely to the shy boy Piet

Then there's the politics of the period: election posters being written over with different candidates, "Are you of true Aryan descent?", "Had they no national pride to be mixing with Jews who were ruining their countries?" "There's lots of old scores being paid off nowadays."

Many are in exile: the vagrant and exiled status. `I couldn't change into a different character; therefore I must change my domicile' - Davidson. The pursuit of lifestyle requires a journey away from British class system - the world at large is their finishing school. Is the tourist more a parasite than a pioneer? `The type of tourist who takes in the whole of Rome in one day.' There is aloneness and separation, the search for a homeland, the sexual rebel. Isherwood later contrasts his sinful European self with his redeemed American Vedanta self.

Social Class: British fiction is invariably considered from a middle/upper class male point of view. The working class male may be an object of desire but is rarely the protagonist. `Christopher's kind are able to adventure outside their own class and society.' The new kind of homosexual is accepting, proud and defiant.

Regarding older men, there is a fascination with eccentricities in portraying individuals whom respectable society would shun, especially comic pathos of older men. In later novels they are portrayed more fully as individuals, not just as pawns in the game against `the others'. Narrators are often weak characters fascinated by strength of character - the popular image of the homosexual male
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 March 2009
In this novella Isherwood revisits the familiar ground of Pre War Berlin in the thirties, but from a slightly more comedic angle than the menacingly wonderful Goodbye to Berlin.

Here the focus is on character. William Bradshaw, the narrator meets Arthur Norris, an exceedingly strange little man of dubious morality on a train to Berlin. Fascinated by his peculiarities they strike up a friendship over a number of years.

Isherwood describes the fragile friendship, based on lies, deceit and mutually agreed misunderstanding. It is wonderfully strange and decadent and dovetails beautifully against the background of a city falling into violence and destruction and the dangerous politics being played out aroung them.

The book is full of wonderful vignettes and real moments of comedy which are undercut by the darkness around and within them, making it a book of real substance.

Highly enjoyable.
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on 14 July 2006
First, the edition I have read is a Vintage Classics paperback dated 1999, not a talking book. Sally Bowles is not a character in this novel.

The book is set in pre-war Germany. The narrator, an Englishman, encounters the eponymous Mr Norris on a train and befriends him. What makes this novel so good is that Isherwood boldly takes a very important political theme, possibly the most important historical theme of the last century, but does not allow it to dominate the novel to the exclusion of the depiction of character. Quite the reverse, the characters, and especially Mr Norris, are exceptionally well realised. Perhaps one might make an exception of the narrator. Reference to this work in the critical literature indicate that Isherwood himself acknowledged that this was a problem. Nevertheless, this book is well worth reading. Its funny moments add to rather than detract from the underlying profound theme, and the style is excellent.
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