I'm a long-time Eco fan who has read all of his novels to date (some of them more than once), so I was very excited to read Numero Zero. I didn't knowI'm a long-time Eco fan who has read all of his novels to date (some of them more than once), so I was very excited to read Numero Zero. I didn't know anything about it in advance, so when I downloaded the ebook, the first thing that surprised me was how short it was -- much shorter than any of Eco's previous novels, and shorter even than the average YA novel. That being the case, I was expecting a breathless and intense short adventure, but the book never really delivered.
Foucault's Pendulum is easily my favourite Eco novel, and it was immediately clear that Numero Zero was, if not a sequel, at least a spiritual successor, with a focus on political conspiracies, rather than secret societies. It takes place in 1992, four years after the ending (and publication) of Foucault's Pendulum, and is set in Milan at the publishing office of a new and bogus tabloid, Domani (Tomorrow), designed to enhance the reputation of its patron, but never actually be published. Apart from the editor, Semei, and the protagonist, Colonna, the rag-tag group of reporters for the tabloid do not know that they will be out of a job again within a year.
Colonna, a self-professed "loser" and freelance writer over 50, is hired by Semei to write a glorified fictionalised account of the publication of Domani. Colonna needs the money and doesn't seem to care much about the shadiness of the whole affair. He's a somewhat typical Eco protagonist: not a great person necessarily, but the best of a bad bunch. Through him and Semei, Eco explores how the media distorts and creates news through word choice and story selection and juxtaposition.
Colonna spends his free time beginning an uninteresting love affair with Maia, one of the Domani reporters, and listening to the conspiracy theories of another reporter, Braggadocio, which draw connections between many historical figures and events of post-WWII Italy, and hinge on Mussolini having survived the end of the war in hiding. Braggadocio's conversations with Colonna take up a lot of the space in the book, and I started scanning over them after a while, when I got the idea that he probably wasn't saying anything that was going to end up being extremely pertinent to the plot. Unless you have a solid knowledge of mid-20th century Italian political history, it's sort of hard to follow and not very entertaining.
There are certain things I have learned to expect from Eco's novels. Sly jokes and understated humour. A cast of morally questionable, but nonetheless entertaining characters. References to somewhat obscure points of historical and philosophical interest. But more than anything, I've learned to expect poorly-developed female characters with almost no agency and a limited active role in the plot, who serve as objects of romance and desire (as well as the Voice of Reason) for Eco's protagonists. In Numero Zero, this role is filled by Maia, the only female character in the entire book.
Maia is in her late 20s, making her more than 20 years younger than Colonna, whom she is attracted to for some reason, possibly because he's not as terrible as all the other men around him. Colonna is attracted to Maia because she's young, pretty, innocent, and possibly autistic. Maia's autism is not something she herself reveals or seems aware of; it's something Braggadocio theorises privately to Colonna. This character trait is apparently intended to make Maia seem quirky, and to inspire protective feelings in Colonna. This is not a good way or reason to include a neurodivergent character in a story. I spent the first part of the book hoping Eco had better plans than usual for Maia, or at least wasn't going to have Colonna try to romance her, and the second half wishing I could whisk her away to a better and more deserving story. I would almost prefer that Eco didn't write female characters at all, and just focused on his plots, than writing them as poorly and two-dimensionally as he always does.
Overall, the story felt rushed, with too much information crammed into too short a space, and no room given to build tension and intrigue. It was like if the characters in Foucault's Pendulum had decided to Nope out of the story after the apparent death of Colonel Ardenti, or if the book had skipped straight to the end at that point. The ending was somewhat anticlimactic and unsatisfying, though I can see how it would appeal to Eco's sense of humour. This isn't to say I didn't enjoy the book at all. I did like some of it, and I entirely agree with Eco's message that conspiracy theories are about 99% BS, and that paranoia is usually a waste of time and energy....more
I fell in love with David Levithan last spring when I first read Boy Meets Boy. He has an eye for the truth, and writes messy emotions and relationshiI fell in love with David Levithan last spring when I first read Boy Meets Boy. He has an eye for the truth, and writes messy emotions and relationships in a way that feels both poetic and real. This book is no exception. The Lover's Dictionary is the story of a relationship, in the format of a series of dictionary entries. The ups and downs of the relationship are presented alphabetically rather than chronologically, so it is difficult at first to piece together the lives of the two parties and what point their relationship is at at the time it was written. While the narrator is male, there is nothing to indicate the gender of his partner. It's not a long book -- easily readable in under an hour -- but it contains all the elements one would expect of a real and complex relationship: love, excitement, joy, humour, betrayal, anger, pain, sadness. The emotions are more clearly described than the events which inspire them, making it easy for the reader to identify with the narrator. A worthwhile pursuit for anyone who has ever been in love....more
Take Spoon River Anthology and change the setting to a contemporary American high school, and you get this book. Twenty teens tell their stories, thTake Spoon River Anthology and change the setting to a contemporary American high school, and you get this book. Twenty teens tell their stories, their thoughts, their feelings about themselves and one another through poetry. Boyfriends and girlfriend and best friends and former friends and potential friends and brothers and sisters and people who have never spoken a word to one another. Each voice is different, the writing styles vary, but one thing remains true throughout: no matter how alone they may feel, or how they may see themselves and their lives, there is someone else thinking about them, seeing them in a different light, and maybe caring about them more deeply than they know. The words are personal -- not the kind of thing you would ever share with someone else -- but it left me thinking, maybe we should. Maybe we have become too disconnected from one another, all closed up inside ourselves. Maybe the world would be a better place if we took those thoughts and shared them with one another. I was thinking about you. You're pretty terrific, you know....more