Umberto Eco is internationally renowned as an author, a philosopher, a literary critic and a historian. He is also a professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna and lives in Milan. "The Name of the Rose", his debut novel, was first published in Italy in 1980 and became a bestseller throughout the world. It was also adapted for the big screen in 1986, a version that starred Sean Connery and Christian Slater. "Foucault's Pendulum" was first published in 1988.
The story is told by Casaubon, as he looks back over the previous fifteen years of his life. A graduate of the University of Milan, he's something of a specialist on the Knights Templar - having researched their trial for his thesis. It was in the late sixties, while still a student, that Casaubon first met Jacopo Belbo at Pilade's Bar. Belbo was an editor with Garamond Press deals largely with reference books and university textbooks. (There is another side to Garamond - Manutius, a vanity press where the authors pay for the priviledge of seeing their books in print). However, Belbo also has to deal with the occasional submission on the Templars - which is unfortunate, as he believes that if "someone brings up the Templars he's almost always a lunatic". As a relative 'expert', it's almost inevitable that Casaubon starts spending a little more time with Belbo at the publishing house...
At Garamond, Belbo works most closely with Diotavelli - a cabalist who insists he's an albino Jew. However, of the two, Belbo is by far the more developed character. Although quite witty at times, he's a rather pessimistic character, with a very low opinion of himself. He sees himself as a coward, seems doomed to be unlucky in love and is frustrated at being an editor instead of an author. He's also the proud owner of a recently acquired computer, which he christens Abulafia - into which, in time, Belbo pours his innermost thoughts.
From the book's outset, it's clear the three are in trouble : Diotavelli is in hospital, apparently gravely ill, while "They" are pursuing Belbo. Convinced that "the Plan" is real, Jacopo is in Paris and seems to believe the Templars are after him. Unfortunately, when his phone call to Casaubon is interrupted, it would appear it would appear the Templars (like the Mounties) always get their man. The Plan had been little more than a game for the three friends, something they had developed after having read too many of the conspiracy-inspired manuscripts landing on their desks at work. Although they didn't realise it at the time, it was a manuscript submitted by Colonel Ardenti that was to become the launchpad for their Plan. The manuscript is, naturally, written about the Templars and the Grail and incorporates - he claims - some recently rediscovered information.
While "Foucault's Pendulum" isn't exactly a short read, it is an absorbing, interesting and enjoyable one. There's plenty happening - Templar history, the Rosy Cross and Rosicrucians, a stint in Brazil, numerology (thirty-six and one hundred and twenty seem to be quite popular), 'the' Sophia and a man called Aglie - someone who seems to enjoy masquerading as the (apparently immortal) Comte de Saint-Germain. There's even a touch of sexy pinball, courtesy of Lorenza Pellegrini. An outstanding book, and absolutely recommended.