Friday, December 25, 2009

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Foucault's Pendulum combines the worst qualities of chi-chi French films with the worst qualities of low-budget slasher flicks.  On the one hand, it takes a long time to go nowhere.  On the other hand, it's like putting that clichéd scene where the girl goes down alone into the dark basement wearing high heels on endless repeat.  You want to smack her upside the head and say, "If you don't want to die, down't go down there, stupid!"...Advice that the protagonists of Foucault's Pendulum could use.

The book explores the possibility that one or another of the secret societies generally believed to be mythical (or extinct) are, in fact, real and very powerful indeed.   Is it the Templars, the Rosicrucians, the Jesuits, the Jews?  Did they control all of history?  A handful of bookish nerds at a publishing house dedicate much, much too much of their time rifling through crackpot occultist books looking for answers.

The narrator, Casaubon, is dull and hard to like.  His posse of cowardly friends ditto.  His girlfriends are interchangeable, their characters undeveloped.  All the women in the novel, for that matter, are one dimensional stereotypes.  The enemy, the Templars or the Illuminati or whoever, are ridiculous.

The reader is reminded periodically throughout the novel that the protagonists' attempts to get to the heart of the secret society are foolish, that their discoveries are tripe, and that they, the bookish nerds, are insane.  Call me crazy, but giving away the surprise ending before the tension has started to build is not the best move.

Eco's obsession with list-making makes sense in the medieval-set thriller In the Name of the Rose.  Here, it's just annoying.  Adding the diary entries of Belbo, the editor who can't write well and knows it, into the text of the novel is tedious.  Most of all, the book is boring and has no real payoff.  It's more than half over before the plot kicks in, long after I stopped caring.

What a waste of some great one-liners.

NB: I wish I could go back and explain some of my damning comments a little better, backing them up with an example or two, or a bit of plot summary.  Unfortunately, I have no memory of reading Foucault's Pendulum, and this is all I wrote at the time.

I now know that Casaubon is the name of a particularly repulsive character in George Eliot's Middlemarch.  Yet I don't like Foucault's Pendulum any more than I did before.  Curious.

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