As my first Umberto Eco book, it’s a good indicator of how well read the man must be. Every chapter begins with a quote from some forgotten tome, and the entirety of the novel relies heavily on literary history. While he knows how to write, I felt that the book slowed down because he knows way too much. The golden rule in writing is ‘show don’t tell’ and unfortunately Umberto told us too much, though perhaps unintentionally.
The book follows Casaubon, an expert on Templar history, as he travels the world and sees cabalistic rituals, trying to understand whether it was all linked together. The characters are absolutely sublime, and their motivations well set out (Belbo is a fantastic side-antagonist). It’s like The Da Vinci Code for intelligent folks. But then about two-thirds of the way in the characters are devising the Plan, an imaginary conspiracy involving just about every famous group or figurehead imaginable. There are literally pages upon pages of the characters sitting around and reeling off historical speculation so as to make their conspiracy sound. It’s quite boring to be honest, though it gets mixed up at times with fictional accounts by Belbo. Sometimes there isn’t a way to avoid exposition.
The Plan is fake of course, but those who want to believe it—the Diabolicals as they are called—take the Plan and will stop at nothing for its secrets to be revealed. The story ends with the sentence “It’s so beautiful”, summarising the entire book. You see, it doesn’t matter if the Plan is real or not—nobody knows and nobody will ever know. So why worry about the chaos of life when life’s chaos is so beautiful to behold. It struck me on the last page of the book that the entire novel tells us to chill out, and that we should enjoy life for what it is. It’s a complicated way to explain it, but I now have the utmost respect for Mr. Eco as a writer, and I look forward to his other books.
We all need a focus point, something sure in this world. Maybe the only thing that offers that is Foucault’s Pendulum—as long as no one moves it.