Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood

A wonderful read; laugh-out-loud funny in places; precise and with very subtle use of what can only be called camp. It vividly evokes the politics of the era right from the beginning; the fights between the Communists and the Nazis; the violence and brutishness of the latter. Berlin in the early thirties is vividly evoked. And at the centre of it all is Mr. Norris, the scoundrel; exceedingly polite, very secretive, outgoing, vain, a charmer constantly on the look-out for that easy pot of gold, untroubled by morals or ethics. The only thing that mars it is what I see as a kind of sexual masquerade; one can imagine Mr. Norris so much more easily licking the boot of a Hans rather than an Annie as he begs to be whipped. It would also make the relationship with Schmidt much more understandable. Mr. Norris reminded me a bit of Quentin Crisp: the rouge, the nails, the exceeding politeness, the coquetry through culture; Norris is a bit more nervous and lacks the abundant hair, having to wear wigs that always end up slightly askew. But there are similarities. I once knew elderly gay gentlemen like that. Norris as heterosexual doesn’t quite convince. But it doesn’t matter really. Isherwood probably got away with as much as was then possible. Besides, the book offers so much else.

José Arroyo

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