Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

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Here you are: the Absolutists (who believe in metamorphosis), the Aetherius Society of California (telepathic relations with Mars), the Astara of Lausanne (oath of absolute secrecy), Atlanteans in Great Britain (search for lost happiness), Builders of the Adytum in California (alchemy, cabala, astrology)…

                  –Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum, 1988, p. 265

 

“So,” Berlo said, “a book on the Templars?”

“The Templars,” the captain acknowledged, “and more besides. This, my friends, is Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) by Umberto Eco – an amazing mystery story that encompasses secret societies and expanses of hermetic knowledge.”

“Yes, I know the story,” I said. “Three book editors invent an absurd, all-encompassing conspiracy theory, which then begins to envelop them and draw them down into its depths. At least, that is what the blurb states, but in fact this book consists of pages and pages of codes, nonsense, and esoteric knowledge – none of which, it seems, is in the end made to serve any useful function.”

“Sounds like someone ought to pull his cork out,” muttered Berlo.

The captain glared at me. “Excuse me,” he said to Berlo. “It seems our friend does not appreciate the finer qualities of Eco’s work. This is a fine novel about truth and our understanding of the concept. Eco creates an intricate web of fact and fiction in order to explore this theme, while at the same time parodying conspiracy theorists. And let us not forget, it is all written in clear, readable prose – not least in William Weaver’s accessible translation.”

“I take your point on the prose,” I said. “But that being so, there is no narrative tension, and the novel seems to sag under the weight of Eco’s posturing. Nor can it be said that any of the characters are properly developed. The sections that relate memories of childhood during the rise of fascism and internecine conflict are of interest, but such sections are all too brief, and are soon lost in the mass of occult references and arcana.”

I thought at that point that I had made my case, and that Berlo would show the captain out, but I was mistaken. “This Foucault’s Pendulum sounds extremely interesting Captain,” he said. “I don’t suppose you could procure me a copy?” He turned to me. “It’s late Carleone and I’ve kept you too long. Let’s meet tomorrow.”

I was being dismissed. As I turned to leave, the captain gave me a nod accompanied by a chilly smile.

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