Monday, November 07, 2005

Mini Book Review - Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum"

My friend, Bob Allard, is a consistently reliable source of recommendations for books that I should read. A number of months ago, I jotted down the title "Foucault's Pendulum" in the notebook where I keep a list of books I intend to read. So, when I saw a used copy of the paperback edition, I grabbed it - and then, it grabbed me!

Umberto Eco is a quintessential Renaissance Man. His breadth of knowledge puts me to shame. In this novel, he has crafted a complex and compelling tale of intrigue that takes the reader from the Temple of Solomon to the sewers of Paris by way of Brazil - while plumbing the depths of such arcane topics as the Knights Templar, Freemasonry, The Crusades, Rosicrucianism, Renaissance art and science, Stonehenge, necromancy, publishing and European history. Before picking up Eco's book, I considered myself reasonably well-versed in some of these topics, but each page of this novel sent me running to the dictionary or encyclopedia to better understand his allusions to literary and historic events.

Eco has a brilliant satiric wit that glints from the narrative from time to time in sparkling and sardonic prose: "And then you gave it all up. We, with our penitential pilgrimages to Buchenwald, refused to write advertising copy for Coca-Cola because we were antifascists. We were content to work for peanuts at Garamond, because at least books were for the people. But you, to avenge yourselves on the bourgeosie you hadn't managed to overthrow, sold them videocassettes and fanzines, brainwashed them with Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. You've made us buy, at a discount, your copies of the thought of Chairman Mao, and used the money to purchase fireworks for the celebration of the new creativity. Shamelessly. While we spent our lives being ashamed. You tricked us, you didn't represent purity; it was only adolescent acne." (page 200)

This book is not for the faint of heart or the slow of mind, but it is worth following Eco down the maze-like and dusky corridors of his memory and imagination.



1 comment:

Carlos N. Velez said...

I've read all of Eco's novels, and they are all wonderful. "Pendulum" is quite good. Baudolino is probably my favorite , no lie [sic.]. You'll understand the "no lie" comment if you read it. His latest, "The Mysterious Flame..." was also good. Moving, even.

There are very few authors who, in my view, write books that should be read more than once. Of the modern writers, Eco is one of them.