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on December 30, 2003
Eco would surely make a poor poker player--the poor guy can't hide his emotions and feelings, especially as it relates to alternative interpretations of Religion. As this book plods along, the reader gets a really good sense that Eco has some unbridled disgust for anti-establishment. Well, it shows, as by the end of the book, he is literally mocking these anti-establishment folks.
I was hoping to not have to sift through Eco's pretentious word choices and sentence structure. Thankfully I did not. Instead, I was visited with "name drop blitzkreig". In other words, Eco just threw one name, group, ancient location, etc. after another. Was it to impress? I have no idea, but most of it didn't move the plot forward.
Eco at least had a good subject matter for his plot, I can give him that much. The way to get to the conclusion, however, was muddled with a lot of nonesense and unnecessary verbage.
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on February 23, 2004
Some bullets, in the spirit of brevity and clarity:
- If, as I have seen some reviews, this was originally written in Italian, my review may be different. This is assuming I could read Italian, and understand all nuances.
- I found the book to be a demonstration in th historically obscure, and thus, trivial. I enjoy history immensely, but found the reams of names, dates, and places too much for me to mentally digest.
- In my humble opinion, the book spent a significant amount of text and pages wandering to and fro amongst these historical references. This is intertwined with the lead character's wandering to and fro amongst hermetic and occult people, places, and occurrences which did little to move the plot forward.
- I'll be honest, boredom set in. I greatly enjoy reading and greatly enjoy history. I did not feel sated in either department. I resent the fact that one (maybe more) reviewer actually stated that if lacking a high school education, you might not enjoy (or understand) this book. Get off your high horse. PS - To plunge through the entire novel and have it be proclaimed a parody (another review), it's too much read for too little funny.
- In summary, I found the book to have a vague, wandering, and sluggish plot, with awkward characters, intellectual bludgeoning, and very little real depth (despite the reams of information). I plan to read Name of the Rose and see what Eco's premier (or so I've been lead to understand) work can do.
Further PS - Just because something is stuffed to the rim with intellectualism, historical trivia galore, and encyclopedic references, does not make it a fantastic NOVEL. Many other components contribute to create such. My recommendation to the reviewers extolling the virtues of the this novel is that they lighten up and try not to be so easily bedazzled. Unless they are egocentric megalomaniacs that like to dump on those who they feel are beneath their superior brain size (depite their deep down honest opinion of the work in question) and just "don't get it."
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on December 27, 2003
I recall reading 'War and Peace,' and realizing at some point that the underlying thesis of the book was to discredit Napoleon. In 'Foucault's Pendulum,' Umberto Eco essentially writes a harsh invective at people obsessed with the occult; those people who take everything in the past, present, and future, and aligns it with their fringe creeds.
Eco's efforts fall far short, however. A frequent problem occurs when a scholar writes a novel centering on his/her area of academic expertise: that is, all characters seem to become mouthpieces of the author, all afflicted by the author's own weirdness. In 'Foucault's Pendulum,' the characters all had the same voice and personality (i.e. that of Eco himself). Eco fails to have this obsessed adventure into the occult interface with the normal world; all characters are self-contained in this nonsensical delirium Templars and Rosicrucians and Druids and Cabalists. Having a more detached interest in such subjects, I never cared about any of the characters.
The characters were unidimensional, nonhuman, not believable, and their presentation lacked any psychological astuteness. There was no (credible) portrayal of love, hate, good, evil; there was no interesting or meaningful conflict or resolution. The rare portrayals of envy are simple and not sustained.
Eco's writing is a veritable catalogue of obscure names, places, events, and arcana all linked in some way with the occult. Early in the book I was captivated enough to try and confirm or corroborate some of his references. Later on I didn't care. Eco's complete lack of economy and judgement perhaps illustrates the faults of his characters, but it is so excessive and unfiltered that it just becomes cumbersome.
In the end, despite the promise of his thesis and themes, I felt 'Foucault's Pendulum' lay somewhere between a work of shameless vanity on Eco's part (i.e. 'look at how much I know') and the ramblings of an idiot savant that can do no more than list hundreds of names from history. Eco seems to have tried writing a vast senior thesis in the first person, without accomplishing much more than presenting his bibliography.
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on September 2, 2003
While I do not profess to be a scholar of semiotics or theology, I do comprehend and appreciate discussions on both topics. Within reason. However Foucault's Pendulum took factual data on these topics to an almost intolerable level. I waded through the muck and mire of this novel, chopping away at the dense overgrowth of symbolistic frondescence with a mental chainsaw only to arrive at nowhere.
While many would state that Mr. Eco is an extremely well educated man, especially in the realm of semiotics, he seems to be seriously lacking in the art of character and plot development. Eco exploits the format of a novel to expel the vast stores of knowledge he has gained over the years while taking the reader on a dizzying journey of little consequence. It seems that his underlying intent, in this novel, is to impress the reader with his expertise.
Many fellow thinkers who delve into similar subject matter have praised this work with the passion of frightenlingly devout fan. They are sometimes willing to overlook the faults in a particular work just because it is of the genre that they are fervent for. Quantity begins to outweigh quality and faults are easily overlooked and/or accepted.
It is probably needless to say that by the time I was done with this novel I was resentful of Eco's attempted use of storyline for the sake of, what to me seems to be, intellectual "showing off". I could have easily done without it and would probably have had a more pleasant time reading an encylopedia to aquire the knowledge that Eco tries to force down the reader's throat.
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on October 18, 2001
As a novelist Eco writes the kind of superficially 'intellectual' books that somehow manage to convince a great number of people that they are reading something with a certain cachet. Foucault's Pendulum is a confidence trick of stupendous proportions. For a start this guy can't write for toffee. The prose is turgid and unwieldy, lending Foucault's Pendulum all the page-turning qualities of the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (which, by the way, is the book you'll constantly need at hand if you're to wade through this mire). To compound matters the text is littered with arcane locutions and absurd neologisms (made-up words), making large sections of the book utterly incomprehensible. The plot (such as there is one) is that a secret occult society is bent on (wouldn't you know it!) world domination. That's right, 700 odd pages to reveal the most hackneyed plot imaginable- the staple of a million B-movies and pulp horror novels. To top it all the Plan isn't ever remotely credible (how could it be?), robbing this book of any narrative suspense that might be on offer. Eco employs the old chestnut of the 'unreliable narrator' (in this case Cassaubon), but when you don't care what a narrator says, his unreliable status becomes frankly irrelevant. To those who claim this book demands intellectual staying-power I have this to say: there really isn't anything in Foucault's Pendulum a precocious adolescent couldn't understand. It's tough to read because the most simple plot is buried in a mountain of wilfully obscure guff. Clearly Eco's intention is to dazzle us with his scholarship, but once you cut through the all the drivel there is simply nothing of substance here. There are occasionally funny moments and some diverting ideas, but they in no way justify the monumental effort involved in reading this nonesense. In the end the Plan is revealed to be bogus (you'll arrive at this conclusion on page 2) and the shenanigans of the Diabolicals (the credulous fools taken in by it) simply their attempt to impose a subjective meaning on the last 1,000 years of European history. If the point of Foucault's Pendulum is to illustrate how in the absence of absolute values (God and so on) we bring our own designs and meaning to life then I suggest you read Albert Camus's succinct existentialist novel 'The Outsider.' In summarises in a 100 pages of beautifully simplistic prose the point Eco may or may not have been getting at in this attempt at a novel. This book will be a major disappointment to anyone who cherishes genuinely challenging fiction. It gets one star purely for it's soporific qualities.
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on April 2, 2001
Before picking up this tome I was under the impression that I was reasonably well-informed on the subject-matter. Having read fairly widely about conspiracies in general I thought my working knowledge of the Illuminati, Priory of Sion , Albigensian Heresy and the like would give me an advantage in penetrating the dense, often confusing and poorly translated prose. Sadly not. I doff my cap to the other reviewers whose descriptions of a racy romp through paranoia certainly do not tally with my miserable plod through this stodgy dirge of a book. I have never found obscurantism particularly entertaining, and having made it to the end only experienced relief that the ordeal was over. Eco's gentle ridicule of the farther reaches of 20th century belief systems may cause some to reassess their irrationality, but I fear it may inspire more to read Baigent and Leigh's nonsense to find out what on earth this semiologist chap was banging on about. If anybody can direct me to somebody who pretends to understand half of one percent of the obscure allusions I will be glad to pay homage. Eco is almost certainly a towering intellect, but by defying comprehension over several hundred pages I fear he may well become the next Stephen Hawking- his work prominently displayed on the bookshelf and universally lauded but nobody ever gets past page 23. Sad, really.
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on May 11, 1999
Eco writes fiction like an academic, not like a novelist. I suspect he wrote this novel with only one hand, using the other to constantly pat himself on the back for his "cleverness."
There is a smugness to the author's voice (not the narrator's, the author's). I attribute this to Eco's writing rather than the translator's, because William Weaver has written translations of Italo Calvino that positively sing.
What people respond to in "Foucault's Pendulum" - the secret histories, the breadth (though not depth) of knowledge - is interesting in and of itself. But this novel is not. You see how short it falls when compared to other novels with similar themes. "The Cornish Trilogy" by Robertson Davies is a wittier, more entertaining story of eccentric academics drunk on ideas. "Aegypt" by John Crowley beautifully conveys the past's many mysteries and how, unseen, they surround us in the present. "The Crying of Lot 49" by Thomas Pynchon is the pinnacle story about the need to, and fear of, seeing connections everywhere.
These books all contain characters and scenes that are wonders to experience. Beyond it's learned exposition (which, admittedly, is impressive), "Foucault's Pendulum" has too few of fiction's basic pleasures to recommend it.
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on October 2, 2000
I felt like I was reading this book for a class test rather than for pleasure. I have two advanced degrees, and yet I still felt too stupid to read this book. I found myself lost in the details, and wondering...what is the point?!? The concept of the book was fascinating, which drew me to pick it up, but the execution was oh, so boring. I can't give this book a completely negative rating. When Umberto Eco wrote somewhat normally -- with a plot and characters, for instance, rather than page after page of mind numbing, pointless details -- I actually enjoyed the book and storyline. Although I found his references to "the Thing" revolting. I'm offended when people refer to a baby as "it"...but the Thing is revolting. It turned me against the protagonist...was that Eco's purpose? Can anyone recommend another of his books? I enjoyed the Name of the Rose but was put off by this endeavor (or is that not obvious?).
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on December 23, 1999
Just because a book is interlaced with a vast bank of intellectual data does NOT necessarily qualify it as a great read. To compare this book with Ulysses and War & Peace is a crime; those books were exceptionally well written. I personally believe that many readers praise this book simply to qualify themselves as 'advanced' intellectuals. Big deal! I have read the book and found it endowed with much knowledge but that did not make it a good read. Look at the other reviews and you'll find one reoccurring theme, "Patchy", "Choppy" etc..; I could not agree more. Let's face it people the Oxford English Dictionary is a complex, intellectually challenging publication, that does not mean I want to read it from cover to cover. If it's bragging rights you're looking for then read "Foucault's Pendulum." If its fine, eloquent writing you seek, save yourself the money!
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on January 10, 2003
This review reveals a bit of the ending, so don't read it if you don't want the ending spoiled. (Though by the time you get to the end you're just glad to be there).
One of my (too many) hobbies is esoterica. So a book like this should have been a treat. I can follow more of the arcane references than the average reader, I reckon.
But the book is all intellect and no imagination or soul. The plot is not interesting or believable. Nor are the characters. The characters don't even care about each other. (At the end, the narrator's best friend is hung by a group of theosophists and the narrator doesn't intervene or get upset but simly engages in abstract speculation.)
Read it for the few chapters on the history of the templars, and for the overview of esoterica. But not for the plot, or the theme, or the characters, or for any other reason you normally read a book.
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