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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

"The Prague Cemetery" by Umberto Eco

It starts in a very Dickensian (that should probably be Balzacian) vision of Paris. A man who forges documents for a living has lost his memory and wonders whether he has a split personality, the other half being a Jesuit. His grandfather suffered from paranoid fantasies about the Templars, the Freemasons, and the Jews. Already within the first hundred pages we have met du Maurier discussing hypnotism and someone who might be Freud. So far, so reminiscent of Foucault's Pendulum (though it is many years since I read that).

Then we trudge through the forger's history, sometimes from the diary he is writing, sometimes from the notes added to the diary by the Jesuit half of his split personality, and sometimes from the perspective of the Narrator. We go through his time fighting with Garibaldi and his transfer to Paris. He then works for various secret services, getting involved in a variety of famous plots. He works to discredit satanists and Freemasons and Catholics and Jews. He is involved in the Dreyfus plot and writing the Protocols of Zion; there is a scene at a satanic orgy.

But it rambles. It is boring. Eco sometimes goers on for a whole page about nothing such as when he lists the Masonic titles of one character for twenty lines (pp 406-407). There are scenes which Eco calls coups de theatre  such as the meeting of rabbis in the Prague cemetery, the black mass orgy, and the bodies in the sewer; these are rather cliched. The forger-hero has almost no personality except for a love of good food (another opportunity for Eco to show off his erudition by listing dishes in French) and as a result I really couldn't care about him. Huge dramatic moments such as his first killing are thrown away because he has so little character that these are just another episode for him. As a result, the fact that he suffers from a split personality and has amnesia prompted by a crisis seems rather implausible.

Eco wrote the wonderful The Name of the Rose; this dreadful book is so disappointing.

Ramshackle and tedious. March 2013; 556 pages.

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