“a brilliant work, beautiful in its language and descriptions, but probably best read in its original language.”
Reading the jacket blurb, the reader might believe this to be a suspenseful, psychological mystery. Perusing the contents makes that idea less certain.
This is definitely a weighty tome at 623 pages, but having waded through Gone with the Wind (689 in double columns), King’s The Stand (1152) and Moby-Dick, the reader might look upon this novel as merely “having more to say.” One thing is certain: Those novels have a recognizable, easy-to-follow plot.
In the introductory chapter, set in a museum, a young man explains Foucault’s Theory to a young woman. When he finishes, she, as well as the reader, are less knowledgeable than before, and the narrator comments, “Idiot . . . How could you fail to kneel down before this altar of certitude?” Later, on, he adds, “If you can’t even decide what the story is, better stick to editing books on philosophy.”
It seemed he was speaking directly to one specific reader. This one.
The headings of each chapter feature a quote, a good many in languages other than English (and one must remember, the novel itself is also a translation)—Hebrew, Latin, etc. It would have been edifying to have a translation of these headings, so the unilingual could understand how each quote pertained to the chapter it precedes. One passage in particular stands out for its redundancy: when the narrator attempts to discover the password to a word processor, there are two pages listing the names of God.
As for the story itself, it was, to the less acutely cerebral, lost in the asides, tangents, and reminiscences. Having read The Name of the Rose, which was more forthright in presentation, it was expected this one would be much the same and reading it was looked forward to. Alas, no.
If one presses on, there are glimmerings and bits of story in between flashbacks and reminiscences, but they must be dredged from these elements, as one must when panning for gold, removing those few nuggets from the soil hiding them. Even for one with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, this becomes quite a chore.
One statement rings true: “Now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”
Fans and followers of Eco will no doubt bristle and be taken aback by these statements, but they must remember this is only one individual’s opinion. This is undoubtedly a brilliant work, beautiful in its language and descriptions, but probably best read in its original language.