In March this year I read and posted in Umberto Eco's (1932-Italy) The Name of the Rose. I enjoyed The Name of the Rose and learned a good bit about life in a medieval monastery in Italy from it. The Name of the Rose is by far his most read book. Yesterday I finished his The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana and I enjoyed it a lot also. I really liked the subject matter of the novel as it deals directly with the role of books and remembered reading in the lives of book centered people, in theory the theme of my blog.
The main character and narrator of the book is a dealer in antique books in his sixties. All of his remembered life he has loved books, literature and reading. He has a stroke and he can remember nothing but the contents of the 1000s of books plus magazines and newspapers he has read. He does not know his own wife, etc. His wife fills him in on the bare outline of his life but there are still huge holes in his memory. He goes to the ancestral country house of his family, a sprawling old mansion, and he finds a huge treasure trove of books, magazines, and newspapers along with all sorts of posters and such. He begins to reread all of the books he appears to have read in his youth as well as magazines and newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s. From these papers he is able to reconstruct the image of Fascist Italy. He begins to reconstruct his own life from the books. It is fascinating to see how Eco depicts this process.
The book is a love story about literature. Many of the works referred to in the book are beyond my frame of reference but what matters is we can see the how literature shaped and enriched the man's life.
This is a rich book with lots in it to entertain and edify us. Eco knows a really lot and it shows. The novel is profusely and beautifully illustrated with all sorts of art works and poster reproductions that are integral to the story. I would not classify it as a light read but I think those who give it the respect it deserves will be glad they read it. I will, I hope, read more of his books.