This morning I finished Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. It's taken me a long time to read (although I *have* been reading one or two other things in the meantime) but I certainly enjoyed it. I read The Name of the Rose after reading Eco's brilliant book on translation Mouse or Rat. However, the person who recommended Mouse or Rat to me, did so with the caveat that 'it's fabulous... not like his novels'.
With Pendulum, I feel now as though I'd like to read the whole novel again, to try to understand Eco's exploration of 'the Plan' more fully. Because what he does is simultaneously show the arbitrariness of theories imposed on the past (Dan Brown would have learned a lot from Eco, but probably would then have sold far fewer novels) and to create a real tension about the fulfillment of the ideas that his protagonists have either created or exposed. Can we be sure where or whether fact exists?
This ambiguity is at the centre of the novel and perhaps explains my desire to reread: after all, the reason that conspiracy theories emerge is (in part) humanity's deep need to 'explain' everything. If, like practically every other person in the country, you have read The Da Vinci Code, reading Pendulum will show you the echoes of Eco in Dan Brown [even though these echoes are, no doubt, unwitting - I'm not implying any sort of plagiarism, just thematic similarity]. Eco's work explores many of the ideas that emerge in Brown's narrative - the very ideas which lead people to say 'I know it's badly written, but don't you think it's interesting that...?' - but more profoundly, and more challengingly.