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You'd better have an unabridged dictionary handy....
on July 7, 2000
Umberto Eco is a major cause of headaches. Well, he was for me, at least.
About seven years ago, I bought myself a paperback copy of Foucault's Pendulum at the university book store. It looked like an engaging plotline, the reviews were excellent, and it had a really neat cover.
I realize now that most of the reviewers were probably intelligentsia-wannabes who didn't want to admit to the other reviewers they didn't have a clue what Umberto Eco was going on about. I remember seeing pictures of movie stars holding copies of Foucault's Pendulum in order to look brainy.
Expecting some sort of smart cyber tale with a mystical flavour, I started reading. It was the densest prose I'd ever encountered, even worse than the Webster's unabridged dictionary's definition for "existentialism."
Foucault's Pendulum is definitely not a cyber story. A word processor is the only computer, and there aren't any net-running scenes. Nevertheless, the mystical stuff is certainly there. Umberto Eco waxes philosophical for pages upon pages about word processors (and everything else) in a mystical fashion, all the while going off on Rosicrucian and Greater Key of Solomon tangents in languages like Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and medieval French.
I slaved over Foucault's Pendulum for about a year, always making sure I had a copy of Webster's unabridged dictionary on hand. Unfortunately, it didn't help very much. You see, many of the words in the book are not in the dictionary.
I think that in order to truly comprehend the intricacies of Foucault's Pendulum, a reader needs to be a polyglot with several PhDs in history, philosophy, occult studies, and sciences under her/his belt. Oh yes, and the reader should also have more than a passing familiarity with Sam Spade detective novels.
This makes me wonder what sort of man Umberto Eco really is.
The book proved to be too much for me in my undergrad days. I only got about a third of the way into the novel before giving up in consternation.
Some time later, my husband made the cocky assertion he could read any English novel and fully comprehend it. I called his bluff and handed him my dusty copy of Foucault's Pendulum. I don't think he even made it as far as I did before he unceremoniously jammed the book back into its place on the shelf.
Then, about a year or two ago, I watched The Name of the Rose, and the richness of the plot made me want to try reading the book again.
So, I dragged the dusty book out of my bookshelf. I opened to where the bookmark was, and couldn't remember what the hellwas going on. I groaned aloud when I realized I would have to start all over from scratch.
Once again, I began struggling my way through heavily obfuscated prose. The three-volume dictionary did not leave my side. I was determined to finish the book, and finish it I did in a scant month.
Sure, I was irritable and walked around with a perpetual wrinkle ensconced between my eyebrows, but I finished it, darn it! And, with plenty of research on the side, I even understood (most of) it.
Never before have I worked so hard to read a book.
Now I have just begun to read Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln's The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. While reading the forward, I experienced a bit of déja vu. The subject matter is almost identical to the plotline of Foucault's Pendulum, albeit much easier to comprehend.
A few pages later, I read how Umberto Eco was inspired to write his migraine of a novel from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
Why couldn't I have read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail first? It would have saved me a few brain cells.
I guess it's because of the cover. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail has a rather vanilla cover, and I'm drawn by shiny things. Foucault's Pendulum has the coolest foil embossing.....