UMBERTO ECO (1932-2016) was the author of numerous essay collections and seven novels, including The Name of the Rose, The Prague Cemetery, and Inventing the Enemy. He received Italy's highest literary award, the Premio Strega, was named a Chevalier de la L gion d'Honneur by the French government, and was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
If a copy (often unread) of The Name of the Rose on the coffee table was a badge of intellectual superiority in 1983, Eco's second novel--also an intellectual blockbuster--should prove more accessible. This complex psychological thriller chronicles the development of a literary joke that plunges its perpetrators into deadly peril. The narrator, Casaubon, an expert on the medieval Knights Templars, and two editors working in a branch of a vanity press publishing house in Milan, are told about a purported coded message revealing a secret plan set in motion by the Knights Templars centuries ago when the society was forced underground. As a lark, the three decide to invent a history of the occult tying a variety of phenomena to the mysterious machinations of the Order. Feeding their inspirations into a computer, they become obsessed with their story, dreaming up links between the Templars and just about every occult manifestation throughout history, and predicting that culmination of the Templars' scheme to take over the world is close at hand. The plan becomes real to them--and eventually to the mysterious They, who want the information the trio has ``discovered.'' Dense, packed with meaning, often startlingly provocative, the novel is a mixture of metaphysical meditation, detective story, computer handbook, introduction to physics and philosophy, historical survey, mathematical puzzle, compendium of religious and cultural mythology, guide to the Torah (Hebrew, rather than Latin contributes to the puzzle here, but is restricted mainly to chapter headings), reference manual to the occult, the hermetic mysteries, the Rosicrucians, the Jesuits, the Freemasons-- ad infinitum . The narrative eventually becomes heavy with the accumulated weight of data and supposition, and overwrought with implication, and its climax may leave readers underwhelmed. Until that point, however, this is an intriguing cerebral exercise in which Eco slyly suggests that intellectual arrogance can come to no good end. (Oct.)
Student of philology in 1970s Milan, Casaubon is completing a thesis on the Templars, a monastic knighthood disbanded in the 1300s for questionable practices. At Pilades Bar, he meets up with Jacopo Belbo, an editor of obscure texts at Garamond Press. Together with Belbo's colleague Diotallevi, they scrutinize the fantastic theories of a prospective author, Colonel Ardenti, who claims that for seven centuries the Templars have been carrying out a complex scheme of revenge. When Ardenti disappears mysteriously, the three begin using their detailed knowledge of the occult sciences to construct a Plan for the Templars--only to discover too late that the Plan they have invented is in fact real. In his compulsively readable new novel, Eco plays with ``the notion that everything might be mysteriously related to everything else,'' suggesting that we ourselves create the connections that make up reality. As in his best-selling The Name of the Rose, he relies on abstruse reasoning without losing the reader, for he knows how to use ``the polyphony of ideas'' as much for effect as for content. Indeed, with its investigation of the ever-popular occult, this highly entertaining novel should be every bit as successful as its predecessor. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/89. -- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
PRAISE FOR FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM"An intellectual adventure story, as sensational, thrilling, and packed with arcana as Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Count of Monte Cristo."--THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD"Endlessly diverting . . . Even more intricate and absorbing than his international bestseller The Name of the Rose."--TIME