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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's hard to get into the swing of this Pendulum, January 30, 2005
This review is from: Foucault's Pendulum (Mass Market Paperback)
This book was on my shelf for years but I finally got around to reading it after reading the DAVINCI CODE and ANGELS AND DEMONS. They have similar themes, but Foucault's Pendulum has a much larger point having to do with the search for meaning. The point is that the search itself is compelling, and the temptation of searching for secret meaning can become obsessive. But it's hard to get into the swing of PENDULUM. To get to that main point, Umberto Eco constructs a story that manages to pack speculation about just about every occult group and secret society in history into one unified theory. Are the characters discovering or creating their story? Or is their imagination producing reality? Or are they, or at least the narrator, simply delusional? I think that's what I was supposed to be wondering while reading the book. I was pleased with the ending, which though a little ambiguous did not turn out to be confirmation of magic or the discovery of a secret of secrets. Dark and mysterious figures seem small and petty by the end. Cleverly, Eco leaves us at a point where the narrator simply arrives at a new theory, which he had been doing throughout most of the book, so I suppose what's really going on could be just about anything, but at least the ending seems to be about human nature in this world.

Although I liked the ending, I had many problems with this book. First, it took far too long to get to the ending. I think Eco wanted us to ease into the characters' descent into obsession, so the first half of the book contains too much off-the-main-plot narrative. Then Eco wants to overwhelm us with scope, so he writes pages and pages and pages about obscure secret societies, some of which I had known something about, some of which I hadn't. Where Dan Brown introduces quasi-historical organizations like the Illuminati with a lot of explanation, Eco's characters talk about them as if everyone is already familiar with them (including many groups far more obscure than the Illuminati). I don't think Eco here is trying to be pretentious. I think he's trying to establish a murky atmosphere within which he has an easier time manipulating our recollection of myth and history. But wading through pages upon pages of disorienting uncertainty can be tedious.

Eco also has an annoying habit of switching styles. At first he writes in his deliberately disorienting way, then he has pages of clear exposition, then he breaks into fine print that is supposed to be the writing of one of his characters. This too is uncomfortable, and I found the style shifts to often kill the book's momentum.

Finally, though the mysterious figures surrounding the book's main characters are rendered more plausible as frauds by the end of the book, there is no plausible explanation of why the main characters are surrounded by so many frauds, in on a lesser version of their grand plot. I think this is supposed to add to the story's deliberate ambiguity, but I'm not sure and not entirely convinced.

Ultimately I was wrong to pick up with book after reading Dan Brown's books. Brown writes "page turner" thrillers, which this is most certainly not. The right way to come at FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM is to recognize it as a character-driven novel about human nature.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 21, 2011 3:11:13 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 21, 2011 5:04:10 PM PDT
Library980 says:
The reviewer said: "Ultimately I was wrong to pick up with book after reading Dan Brown's books. Brown writes "page turner" thrillers, which this is most certainly not. The right way to come at FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM is to recognize it as a character-driven novel about human nature."

Anyone who reads Foucault's Pendulum looking for another Dan Brown thriller will be disappointed. Eco is so much deeper than Dan Brown. Maybe less of a page turner, but full with meaning. Umberto Eco is a serious student of semiotics - the meaning of symbols. Dan Brown pursues a particular theory and expands upon it as though it is "truth". Some readers actually believe that Dan Brown's book has exposed a "truth" that has been hidden by the Church for centuries. Maybe. But to a certain extent Dan Brown plays hard and fast with history. He is writing a thriller and he uses "facts" to weave a story. By contrast, Eco presents documented "history", providing foundational sources for the mystical ideas and secret societies that he describes. Eco's meticulous attention to sources is part of what slows down the reading - but for me enhances the pleasure. Men love to explore mysteries. Eco shows that we shape the unknown to suit our perspective. He puts forth one "plausible" theory and then comes back again and again and again to write "oh, no. I have another explanation". The new explanation fits the facts no better or worse than the first. Someone with a less mystical bent than the protagonists (Eco uses women to demonstrate this kind of practical good sense) might interpret the same facts with equal accuracy and intellectual integrity as a shopping list. Are any of the explanations "true"?

Have you ever read archeologist reconstructions based upon fragmentary inscriptions? Are you a reader of the excellent magazine Biblical Archaeology Review, for example? Scholars argue fervently for particular interpretations, and then argue with each other when their interpretations are in conflict. Some explanations are more satisfying than others, yet what can we/they "know". How good can the best reconstruction be, based upon fragmentary information. It is fun and intellectually challenging to create theories of the past, but where is "truth"? Eco makes the reader run the gauntlet to make his point, and he does so very convincingly.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 14, 2011 12:35:21 PM PDT
Juan Viajero says:
Well said.
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