Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2005.

So, first of all, I haven't blogged in a while. Sorry about that. I've got a bit of a backlog built up now.

This one I read in mid-July, and greatly enjoyed the first two thirds of it.

The premise is neat: the main character, Yambo, awakes from some form of collapse--and he's forgotten nearly everything. What's odd, though, is that the memories he's lost are those closest to him--his wife, children, and parents. What he does for a living. And yet his memory of many books and poems remains intact, perfectly usable.

His wife is unable to bring back these memories: she can only describe what she knows about his life, and so Yambo retreats to his family estate, largely abandoned, near Solara. He finds the books, the comics, and the music that he grew up with, and is able to slowly remember more and more details, is able to make the mental connections work again to remember what his life was. It's a weird form of time travel, growing up in Italy during Fascism in a family that was waiting for Facism to die, listening to the BBC during the war.

He finds a secret room with his treasures, finds the comic book that introduced him to his ideal woman, almost exhausts himself in the quest to become himself again. In many ways, it's a neat description of how a life is shaped by the cultures around it, and it's a neat description of the media of the time.

In other ways, though, the book is profoundly weird. From the re-discovery of physicality on the part of the main character to the stroke episode that leads to the disjointed, odd dream-marvelling that makes up the last third or so of the book, the book lacks the consistency and fun of Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose.

It was an interesting read, but one I was glad to put down. Throughout the first third, I was looking forward to recommending it to people, but I really can't do that. The dazzling array of beautifully woven allusions to literature and music were really very well done indeed, but the attempt to muse on what memory means, what memory is, just doesn't quite work.