The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A rather large part of me is astounded, yet again, at the erudition and the hopelessly convoluted tale that Umberto Eco is able to write, all when staying close to a single, simple premise. Indeed, the amount of real history, real contemporary and historical thought pre-1640's, is enough to send any regular scholar into paroxysms of joy... or the need to act on vengeance.
At any point the book, I can sit back and enjoy the text, the dry accounting of an anonymous scholar as he (or she) goes over the left behind documents of a shipwrecked scholar finding himself marooned on ANOTHER ship off the coast of a deserted island, unable to leave the ship because can't swim.
Ok, a little labyrinthian. But wait! He lives and dies recounting his youth, and out of learned frustration and boredom, devises a narration of himself both fantastic and strange. A twin brother which accounts for all his crimes and failures. A life of mystery and intrigue. A lost love is given over to his fictional brother, giving him all the good things as well as the bad.
The progression and subtle shifts throughout the novel are rather excellent.
So why am I giving this a three star? Well, for as much as I appreciate the beautiful writing and the excellent idea behind it, it fell flat. I didn't care for either Roberto or his evil self-narrative twin. And the amount of space spent on Galenic and cutting-edge 17th-century science might be AWESOME in retrospect and conception, but a FREAKING DRAG in execution. :)
Lordy, I can't recommend this to anyone except those who LIKE this kind of scrupulous historical drama with a HUGE dose of accurate historical erudition. This is a scholar who's trapped and a scholar who goes over this long-dead scholar's work. Ergo, it follows that the reader should ALSO be a scholar. :)
Read this with caution. It doesn't have the charm of Baudolino or the crazy humor of Foucault's Pendulum or the awesome historical mystery of Name of the Rose. Alas. But it is nicely labyrinthian if you're into that kind of thing. :)
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