Will's Reviews > Foucault's Pendulum

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
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's review
Feb 01, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: dethpakt
Read in April, 2008

Imagine three sarcastic, over-educated editors who work at a vanity publisher. Owing to their occupation, they naturally end up reading an abundance of books about ridiculously grand conspiracy theories and occult societies - the Freemasons, the Templars, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati (Bavarian and otherwise), and so on. So they start to play a sort of free-association game: Let's connect all these things, using the same half-mad logic as the authors of these books, into one grand design. Thus The Plan is born.

But they're too good at it. The Plan starts to get away from them. After so long immersed in the dream-logic of conspiracy theories you can form seemingly-natural (and ominous) connections between any pair of things. So when strange and ominous things do happen, when the pieces seem to start falling into place, is it just coincidence? Are the things they thought they were making up real?

Yes, as others have said, you'll get more out of this book if you know multiple languages, have a dictionary handy, have some background in the occult, etc. Considering that the author and the protagonists are all polyglot intellectuals with doctorates in literature and/or medieval history, it'll naturally help you if you are similarly educated. But I don't think that's necessary to enjoy the book overall. It is wry and intellectual but at its heart it's a detective thriller: A friend goes missing and Our Hero needs to find out why. And he finds a lot more than he bargained for.

Some notes for readers: this book follows the pattern "Our Hero, just before the Final Confrontation, takes a moment to flash back to all the circumstances leading him to this moment." So you start out right near the end. You will be confused and overwhelmed. Press on, dear reader. All the important things will be explained. Don't worry too much if you don't know everything about Kabbalah or Socialism in Italy in the 1960s - they are not vital to the story. But reading about them does add to the enjoyment.

In fact, I think that might be one of my favorite things about this book: the sheer breadth of the references and allusions - medieval history to James Joyce to the Beatles. I could probably spend a couple of months plugging everything I didn't understand from my first reading into Wikipedia and seeing what I find out.

Which I plan to do. On my second reading.
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Reading Progress

02/19/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Chris Meger Nicely put. I think the detractors of this novel were just really intimidated by the mountain of esoterica, just as I was, but it really is worth reading and provides you with about a thousand powerful fascinations for the next time your at the library...

Joann Your review nailed it! That's what it is...a detective story, and a lot more fun than most. I listened to Foucault's Pendulum (four times). There are several really good recordings available and I think many people would find it much more accessible as a recorded book.

I didn't believe my ears the first time, and wasn't even sure I heard right. The second time things began to fall into place, and I even did a bit research which helped and was interesting in itself. The third time I began to anticipate the action. The fourth time I knew what was coming next, but sat back and enjoyed it.

message 3: by Rike (new) - added it

Rike Jokanan I read the early chapters of this book then I clicked it back to "to read" list. Now that I've read your review, I grew my new gut to continue plugging to it again. Thanks for inspiring and the tip!

BookAddict I've just started this and yes it's a bit overwhelming but quite thrilling - thx for the review

Jean-marcel I've read this book twice; think its' almost time for the third go round. The beginning actually enthralled me immediately and I really really wanted to know what all this was about. I think Eco did a really smart thing by structuring the novel in this very particular way. By the time he got to describing Garamond Press and the little scam going on there I was completely hooked, and by the time the middle pages turned into a huge free association info-dump/mad rambling conspiracy narrative, there was just no way I could escape.

Yoshiyuki I like what you wrote about this book! I like how you made everything look so clear and simple.....though this book is anything but simple. Even people having the appropriate knowledge of the topics tackled in this book might find it a bit overwhelming, too academic...maybe too intellectual (?) for the present-day reader! I managed half of the book and I'll read it to the end, but....I cannot say that it satisfies me!

Czarny Pies You have it very difficult me to add your review. I think I will write it in French as as to avoid comparisons.

Mark Hebwood How did the second reading go? Must say your review made me want to pick it up again. I read this ages ago and loved it.

Marcelo I dropped the book when I was 18, now I took time to read it again. It's got lots of winks to Eco's essays (some of them published in How to Travel with a Salmon). Reading from today's point of view - two decades on, knowing more about the world, having seen the inside of an university - it gives us lots more peels on the onion, and in the end the onion is made of endless peels.

message 10: by Mariano (new) - added it

Mariano I ve read it Long time ago ,... now i was reading some reviews ... no one says anything about the similarities between the two stories and what eco , i think, is trying to tell.The principal story of the book and the personal story of the main caracter, compares how a quest starts and ends where it began; in the first one the search for a hidden truth, and in the other, love. To me what eco left me is a more intelligent away to see the world and a warm feeling that makes me value my loved ones.

Every man over the years, goes on his personal quest to search his own truth.... he follows a career, travels, try to stand out among others , or seek fortune and glory..... but at the end everyone just want to love and be loved.

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