Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fortnightly Book, May 24

The fortnightly book this time around will be Umberto Eco's third novel, The Island of the Day Before. It's unlikely to top The Name of the Rose or Foucault's Pendulum, the only fiction works by Eco that I've read (I've read a large portion of his nonfiction), and a look at critical reviews shows that most people think it hasn't come close, but as it's Eco one can be sure that there will be plenty in the book to like, whatever its shortcomings.

In the 1640s, Roberto della Griva finds himself shipwrecked and cast up, not on a deserted island but on a deserted ship. He's stuck there because although he can see land, he cannot swim. It is thus a Robinsonade with a twist. (Telegraphed by the name of the main character, who is doubly Robin-ish: Robin is a diminutive for Robert and 'Griva' is Catalan for a thrush, of which a robin is one kind; and the robin references are increased by other names, like Wanderdrossel, also a name for a thrush.) It, of course, would not be an Eco novel without also being a treatise on epistemology, and one can see just by glancing through that we have Eco's full toolbox of semiotic quirks and curiosities -- doppelgangers and lists and anachronistic allusions and endlessly many other things.


  1. MrsDarwin10:30 PM

    Definitely not as good as Name of the Rose, but then, what is? It's been years since I read it, so I've forgotten many of the Eco twists, but the final main conceit was interesting enough to ponder for a bit. Still, like Foucault's Pendulum, it feels too fantastic for the kind of pseudo-history that Name of the Rose did so very well. Not every book has to be pseudo-history, of course, and yet there's a danger in getting so swept up in semiotics and doppelgangers and questionable theological twists that the story gets detached from a necessary mooring of reality.

    On the re-reading scale: I've read Name of the Rose twice since we moved into this house 4.5 years ago, and that was neither the first nor the second read. The first time I've taken The Island of the Day Before off the shelf was just now.

  2. branemrys8:47 AM

    That sounds about right. I'm enjoying the work so far, but I can already see that one of the weaknesses of the work is precisely that it is about a character all alone, with the other characters either being people remembered in flashback or reflections of the one character -- not much of the interaction that saturates Name of the Rose and makes it come alive.


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