Over twenty years ago, Umberto Eco artfully invented a mass-selling genre for the novel with The Name of the Rose, his postmodernist pastiche romp through medieval murder and theology. Since then, he has written novels at regular if leisurely intervals of around eight years, amid a busy career as star of the international academic lecture circuit, cultural commentator, and author of serious volumes on semiotics and aesthetics. The later novels have sold remarkably well, but they have never quite reached the peak of crossover success, in both sales and estime, achieved by the first. In Foucault’s Pendulum, he wove a mystery tale out of a fabulous compendium of secret societies and conspiracies from the Rosicrucians to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Then came The Island of the Day Before, a more lyrical (and more turgid) narrative, about time, navigation and the mysteries of longitude (Eco got there before Dava Sobel, but she had the lighter touch and the neater story to tell). Now, with his fourth novel, Baudolino (already a runaway hit in much of mainland Europe), we are back with the marauding confusions of the European Middle Ages – back, that is, to some of the ingredients brewed up to such winning effect in The Name of the Rose.
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I have just spent a wonderful few minutes re-reading the best book review of the year in my opinion. It's by Piers Brendon in September's issue of @Lit_Review. Beautifully captioned as 'Jack the Lad', Brendon takes Fredrik Logevall's JFK: Vol.I apart! It's a laugh a minute. Ouch!
'Perhaps the real modern polymaths are the hidden ones who do not themselves grab the limelight but have the expertise to bring together different fields of knowledge: librarians, teachers, editors of literary journals…'
Jan Morris, who died last week, was a much-loved contributor to our pages. In 2017, she wrote a characteristically witty article about the different winds, their various personalities and how they had touched her life: https://literaryreview.co.uk/let-it-blow.