The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana is a side of Umberto Eco that you haven't seen before . . . and I think you will like it . . . especially if you found the references in The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum to be a little too much for you.
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. Be sure to check out the section on sources of citations and references that begin on 451. These details will add to your enjoyment of the illustrations.
As I read the book, I wished that I knew a few more languages (especially German and Italian), but most of the references were either easy to appreciate or covered in context by another reference that I understood. Naturally, some Ph.D. student will write a dissertation that firmly fixes all of the references, but that will be too stuffy to read for this breezy, charming effort.
What is life? What is memory? What is reality? These fundamental questions are all beautifully addressed in both sublime (images of perfect love) and the mundane (relieving oneself among the vineyard rows.
It's great fun, and I highly recommend this book to you. It's the high brow's perfect beach read!
on March 16, 2010
I'm a big Umberto Eco fan, however this book did not do it for me. At all.
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.
on January 27, 2007
There isn't much I can add that the previous reviewer hasn't already - and very eloquently -- written about this unusual book.
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...