The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana Audio CD – Jun 1 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Guidall gives a polished, Masterpiece Theatre–worthy sheen to Eco's odd, funny tale of Yambo, a man who discovers that while remembering the plots and details of all the books and films he's ever read or seen, he has no recollection of his own life or his name. His sonorous tones are soothing, lending Eco's prose a certain hushed aura, but there is something strangely off about the marriage of the Italian author's intellectual mystery story and Guidall's rolling British cadences. It is as if Guidall's Oxbridge enunciation were thought necessary to gussy up Eco's novel, something it is distinctly not in need of. Overemoting, Guidall turns Yambo into a ham actor rather than a slightly comic figure befuddled by a world full of mysterious and alluring signs. Guidall does do a solid job capturing the quicksilver changes in emotional temperature of the volatile protagonist, who is unable to comprehend the confusing new world he finds himself in. Even in this, though, Guidall is more like an actor professing befuddlement than someone actually finding himself disoriented by his mind's empty spaces.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Eco, best known for the popular medieval murder-mystery tale The Name of the Rose (1983), continually tests himself and his devoted readers by composing, one after another, deeply cerebral novels teeming with erudition and offering plotlines into which he weaves (almost pours) learned discussions of history, religion, and philosophy. What saves his fiction from aridity and pretension, however, is his compelling storytelling and greatly sympathetic characters. His new novel, demonstrating this combination of traits to the fullest, is about a middle-aged man, an Italian rare-book dealer, who falls into a state of amnesia and must attempt to recover his memory. In other words, he seeks to relearn who "I" is. Yambo--the man's nickname--spends several weeks in his old family home in a rural village, sorting through the accumulated artifacts of recent family history and his own childhood. Surely these comic books and illustrated children's weeklies will prove to be a successful therapy; he desperately hopes they will prompt his memory. The novel's literal level almost sports the pacing of a thriller as Yambo pieces his past together, and on a more metaphysical level, it addresses provocative and never outdated or irrelevant questions about the integrity of one's identity and the irresistible attempt to estimate, while still a part of the community of the living, one's lasting imprint on the global slate. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The book's premise is much like that of The Arabian Nights, an excuse to introduce an interesting story teller who unravels a fascinating tale that could go on endlessly. In this case, the device is a stroke which causes Yambo to lose his memory of most everything (including his name) except what he has read. Recuperating from his stroke, Yambo receives hints from his wife and best friend about what he's like . . . and discovers that he has a weakness for the ladies. What does that mean about his relationship with his beautiful, young assistant?
Soon frustrated by his memoryless life in Milan, Yambo goes back to his childhood home to see if anything there resurrects any memories. He discovers a house and attic full of the past through which he relives the history of Italians his age. Later, a second stroke restores his memory, and he relives his life as it happened . . . with a little fantasy attached.
It's a witty commentary on the vacuity of the "official" record of our times to see how little of Yambo's life the effects of his life captured.
For those who aren't Italian, the book offers deep and thoughtful look at what it meant to live in Italy under the Fascists. At times, it seemed like the musical comedy version of Gunter Grass's books about Nazi Germany.
The book dazzles most, however, with its many full color illustrations from books, magazines, posters and other cultural icons. These images make the mental pictures conjured up by Eco's words stronger and more lasting.Read more ›
It started off great, I really enjoyed the first part of the book and was hooked very early on. The mid section of the book though was so excruciatingly boring that I came close to not completing it many times.
The mid section is absolutely filled with external references and quotes. So much so that Umberto's own writing gets lost amongst it. It's dreadfully boring to read, though the story maintains some interest.
The last third of the book I liked... until the scattered conclusion of an ending.
Anyway, I don't want to go into great detail and introduce spoilers, however if you're new to Umberto Eco, don't start with this book. If you've read a few of his books and are anxious to read another stellar work of his, don't read this book. If you're prepared to read a great story that at times gets lost in agonizing external referances than I'd say give this book a go.
I'm not dissappointed I read it, but I certainly won't be recommending it. I would imagine the types of people who would recommend this would also be the ones to tell me that I "don't get it" for some reason or another. Most likely at great length... while I'm trying to escape their conversation and perceived self-intellect for understanding such works.
As a life-long reader & amasser of books, I knew by the time I reached page 30, I was hooked. The narrator, having lost his memory, returns home from hospital and is led by his wife to a long room crammed with books whose titles he recognizes & begins to examine:
"I have so many books. Sorry, we do."
"Five thousand here. And there's always some imbecile who comes over and says, my how many books you have, have you read them all?"
"And what do I say?"
"Usually you say: Not me, why else would I be keeping them here...As for the five thousand I've already read, I gave them away to prisons and hospitals. And the imbecile reels."
At last, thanks to Mr Eco, I have a snappy reply for the next person who says to me, what a lot of books you have, have you read them all...
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I approached Umberto Eco's new novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, with some trepidation. I have sometime found Eco's work to be a bit difficult to get through. It became very apparent that I would have no such problems with this book. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana was not only a very accessible book but, more importantly, it was at once both immensely enjoyable and thought-provoking.
Before turning to the book itself, I found it interesting that the book is filled with illustrations. Throughout the book World War Two propaganda posters, newspaper clippings, comic book pages, and ads from Italian fashion magazines are printed alongside the text. Some might assert that Eco's reliance on illustrations may detract from the text or represent something of a gimmick. I think the illustrations are visually stunning and serve to recreate the social and political atmosphere of Italy in the 1930s and 1940s during which time much of the book takes place. They add a visual punch to the thoughts of Eco's narrator.
The book opens with Giambattista Boldoni, a 59-year old rare book dealer, awaking from a light coma in a hospital after suffering a stroke. It is determined quickly that Boldoni, known to his friends and family since childhood as Yambo, is suffering from partial amnesia. Although he has a vivid memory of social and cultural events through his life he has no memory of anything relating to his personal life. The first chapter is a classic of pop-culture allusions and metaphors. Yambo's sentences come out in stream of consciousness fashion with no personal context at all. Yambo's sentences consist of a series of bits of quotations from Poe, Conan-Doyle, Robert Lewis Stevenson, songs, ad slogans and other reference that I could spend weeks trying to identify. The rest of the book, like Eco's Name of the Rose of The Island of the Day before is something of a detective story. Yambo turns sleuth and sets out to discover who he is and how he came to be him.
Yambo and his wife agree in short order that this mystery would best be solved if Yambo moves back to his family's country home were Yambo spent most of his childhood. He arrives to find that most of his possessions and those of his parents and grandparents are stored in the attic or in various locations throughout the house. He begins opening boxes to find old phonograph records, school notebooks, photographs, Italian and American comic books and newspaper clippings dating back to the 30s and 40s'. Some of these items ignite a little spark in his head (as Eco puts it) but nothing really serves to restore his memories. Those little sparks seem futile and frustrate Yambo, like a butane cigarette lighter on a windy day must frustrate a smoker just dying to light up a smoke. Nevertheless, Yambo makes some progress. About halfway through the book Eco introduces a dramatic twist in the plot (which will not be divulged) that changes the nature of Yambo's quest.
The second half of the book is devoted to Yambo's examination of his life as he now remembers it and the meaning of his quest for his identity. Answer to questions raised in the first half of the book, such as Yambo's strange attraction for foggy days, are explained. The tone of the narrative in this half of the book is quite different from the narrative in the first. As more information is revealed to Yambo, and to the reader, the focus turns not just to Yambo's quest for memory but the importance of memory in one's life. At the same time, what we choose to forget is sometimes just as important to the structure of our lives as that which we choose to remember.
The intricate thought processes of Yambo as he seeks to recreate his life are set out beautifully by Eco. It is hard to describe the impact of Eco's writing except to refer back to the sentences that Samuel Butler wrote after those lines that started this review:
"Everything is so much involved in and is so much a process of its opposite that, as it is almost fair to call death a process of life and life a process of death, so it is to call memory a process of forgetting and forgetting a process of remembering." Memory and forgetfulness are as life and death to one another, for Yambo and, through Yambo's thoughts, to the reader.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is well worth reading.
This novel is divided into three parts and the first part is as good as anything Eco's written since The Name of the Rose. We are given the interesting premise of a man, Yambo, who has lost the memory of the events of his life while retaining the memory of the things he has learned--the books he has read, the music he has heard, etc. Eco is able to believably evoke the experience of this man whose mind is like a textbook, full of facts but with no connection to the people who sees before him. It is a fascinating point of view. As the story progresses, he and his family and friends attempt to figure out ways to bring back his personal memories. To that end, he is packed off alone to his childhood home in Solara.
It is in part two, the stay in Solara, where the going gets tougher. This section is basically a review of the music and literature of pre- and post-WWII Italy. Not being Italian, I had very little connection to the bulk of the material described though it did evoke some memories of my own childhood literary experiences. It is amazing how much literature really does become universal in Western culture. Still, this section basically came across as Eco's own stroll down memory lane and I think, even for an Italian of similar vintage, it goes on rather long.
In section three, Eco gets back on track with his story. Yambo has had another "episode" but this time his personal memories are returning. We hear Yambo's unconscious mind answer some of the questions about his life that have been raised, the bulk of which centers around a great story of the young Yambo helping some Partisans escape capture during the war. I was less than thrilled by Eco's version of the "going into the light" death at the end of the book but he gained back a lot of my goodwill in this closing section.
In the final analysis, this is a pretty good novel. Eco's work will forever suffer in comparison to his truly great first novel, The Name of the Rose. I have read all of his novels since then and this is without a doubt the best complete novel he's written since Foucault's Pendulum. Some of the writing in section one may be the best he's ever done. It is definitely worth reading.
Yambo, a 60ish antiquarian book seller has a stroke that virtually wipes his mind clean...clean as if someone had erased a chalk board. The only memory he has is of the words he has read...all of them. His personal life, the fine points of reference we all need to know who we are...to define ourselves is gone. No recollection of family, friends, history....gone.
Yambo retreats to the family estate, Solara, where he has kept virtually every scrap of paper, every photograph...all the things we all keep to keep track of ourselves. He hopes that by surrounding himself with this material he will be able to regain his memory.
Eco is a superbly rick novelist. His stories are made up of various layers, each supporting and enhancing the other. The characters are memorable, the story well weaved. Even his setting, Solara is a treat. I can't help but believe that part of the difficulty in reading his work is due to the translating. Certainly Eco is several levels above most of his contemporaries. Does America have anyone like him.
You'll love the Mysterious Flame.