Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Am in an Umberto Eco Mood - Review of "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana"

Ever the didactic professor - even when wielding the novelist's pen - Umberto Eco explores how memory serves to lead us out the the metaphysical fog that often enshrouds us. "A sixty-ish Milanese antiquarian bookseller nicknamed Yambo suffers a stroke and loses his memory of everything but the words he has read: poems, scenes from novels, miscellaneous quotations." Eco manages to take this plot device and weave a tale that is a very personal recollection of what it must have been like for him to grow up in the Italy of World War II. Political intrigue often emerges from Yambo's fog-bound memory as images from his childhood trigger nostalgic excursions through the past.

Hovering over the entire enterprise is Yambo's unrequited love for the unattainable object of a high school crush - Lili, the memory of whose face he struggles to recalls as he lies dying in a comatose state. An initial cerebral incident had left him bereft of personal memories. Back home in his ancestral home of Solara, he slowly regains a sense of perspective and history through the books, records, movie posters and comic books he discovered sequestered throughout the villa. His final discovery of a priceless original Shakespeare folio triggers his ultimate cerebral vascular accident. The final chapters take the reader inside the mind of the dying Yambo as he speeds through a dizzying kaleidoscope of real and imagined images - all the while groping for the elusive image of Lili's face. These final chapters - and Yambo's final apocalyptic thoughts and memories - are presented (in typical Eco style) as a parody of the Book of Revelation.

The novel is a moving and irreverent conceit in which Eco opens the kimona and shows us not only his special mind but also his complex heart.

Enjoy "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana."


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