Foucault's Pendulum

Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco, William Weaver I started Foucault’s Pendulum with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Anticipation because I loved Eco’s historical mystery The Name of the Rose and a friend whose literary judgement I respect loved Foucault’s Pendulum and rated it five stars. Trepidation because I had heard it was a “difficult” book, the kind where you need a dictionary handy--not just unabridged English but dictionaries in various other languages--and a book filled with modernist techniques and esoteric and complex subject matter. All of the above is true more or less but for whatever reason I didn’t find it a difficult read at all. Maybe that’s because after reading James Joyce and William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this is easy. But I think the big dividing line with me and modern literary fiction is this, is there a sense of humor or not? Does the author feel like a pompous show-off, or is he gleefully playing with words and the reader? That made a world of difference, for instance in my enjoyment of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, which I hated, and her Orlando, which I loved. And maybe this makes me officially geeky and weird, but at least at first I thought the narrator in Foucault’s Pendulum was hilarious, that from the beginning Eco was exuberantly messing with me tongue firmly in cheek and I found the first third of the book fast-reading. I’ve heard this described as a “thinking man’s DaVinci Code” and even though it predates it, it does play with a lot of similar themes--conspiracy theories, the Grail, the eternal feminine, the Priory of Zion, the Templars--it’s all here. Only Eco can write beyond a grade school level--and gets his facts right. Well, even if they’re the “facts” regarding a wealth of crackpot theories--including the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and they made babies creating a bloodline: "Nobody would take that seriously," Diotallevi said. "On the contrary, it would sell a few hundred thousand copies," I said grimly. Hee. That said, at times I felt this book had diarrhea of the mouth, and Eco would go on for much too long in his detailing of esoterica--I kinda realize that pile on is part of the design, but there were also times I was rather impatient with it, and found much of the last two-thirds a slog, and that lost it one star. The other half-star was lost because in the end I just didn’t care much about the characters, including Casaubon, our first person narrator. I never connected with him the way I did with the characters in The Name of the Rose, which I can’t remember ever not finding absorbing. But there were things I did love here, which is what kept this book from slipping lower in my estimation. I loved at times how it examined the mindset behind conspiracy theories and occult beliefs, how one can slowly lose “that intellectual light that allows you to always tell the similar from the identical and the metaphorical from the real” and keep from connecting things that do not belong together. I loved how a certain password eventually fit into the theme. So no, this didn’t wind up a favorite like The Name of the Rose, but I’m glad I read Foucault’s Pendulum.