Let me start by pointing this out: if you prefer fast-moving books with a simple plot line, you do not want this book. If you want a clear-cut,unambig...moreLet me start by pointing this out: if you prefer fast-moving books with a simple plot line, you do not want this book. If you want a clear-cut,unambiguous ending, you'll particularly hate it. It will infuriate you. If, on the hand, you love puzzles, mysteries, chunks of peculiar information, and digressions, like I do, you'll love it, and I did. In some ways the book is really three books with a couple of research papers mixed in. The book's beginning takes place a few hours before its ending, but in between fall a good many years of narration.
More and more these days we see literary authors appropriating genre tropes for their own work. Eco was something of a pioneer at this with THE NAME OF THE ROSE, which a canny publisher billed as a "medieval Sherlock Holmes". Despite the names of its main characters, it was nothing of the sort, of course, as many would-be readers found to their discomfort once they'd actually bought the thing. Likewise, the publishers of the original edition billed PENDULUM as an occult entertainment. Eco has something rather deeper in mind when he sets the post-WWII ideas of Existentialism, the search for what's "authentic" as opposed to non-meaning and false cultural concepts, against the rise of "New Age" ideas in the 1970s.
Three men in modern Italy begin researching the history of "occultism" in Western culture for their employer, a shady publisher. They begin by scoffing at the silly "superstitions" as they call them. They want to exploit this history for a line of trashy books that will sell, nothing more, but slowly, as the narrator says, they become corrupted and converted -- perhaps. Maybe. Although the ending seems clear-cut, the more one thinks about it, the less clear it is.
As a genre writer, I itched to "clean up" the ending, as I phrased it to myself, but no, Eco's right. What happens after the last page has to be ambiguous, even though the narrator thinks he knows exactly what's going to happen. If I become any less ambiguous in this review, I'll spoil things for you.
A note on the female characters: two strong women and one lost female soul appear in the book. On the whole, they're well-done, real people with interests far beyond the men in their lives. One, in fact, Lia, is the only person with common sense in the whole thing. When I consider the general run of male-dominated European literature, Eco gets high marks from me for this.
This review is mostly about the edition, not the stories, which hold up remarkably well. (I first read them back when I was a teenager. In the Dark Ag...moreThis review is mostly about the edition, not the stories, which hold up remarkably well. (I first read them back when I was a teenager. In the Dark Ages, that was.) A while back Oxford University Press issued a uniform, scholarly edition of all the canonical Holmes stories, that is, all of those by Arthur Conan Doyle. They are introduced by academics who are also fans and annotated in endnotes. (I really dislike endnotes. Whatever happened to good old easily seen footnotes?) The introductions are good. Some of the endnotes are picky picky picky and not worth turning to the back for. Some are quite useful, especially for those who have only come across British money after the decimal conversion.
What the series does do admirably is establish a critical text, that is, a text based on the ACD manuscripts as well as the STRAND magazine versions. (less)