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on 28 August 2016
Are we reviewing the book or the supplier here? The book was immaculate. I'm not sure I really enjoyed reading it, but it is a well written book. I have been hoping with each book of Eco's that it would measure up to "The Name of the Rose", but that book was surely his masterpiece
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on 8 July 2017
Just couldn't get into it, there seems o be no real plot and after half the book I was waiting to care about any of it but I didn't. Never finished.
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on 16 August 2017
The illustrations are excellent. And if that sounds like an example of faint praise, it is! This must be among the 550 most boring pages one can find. That said, however, historians of the late nineteenth century will find that it evokes Paris and parts of Italy in a generously detailed way, It captures the ideas of the age, with - strangely enough - an obsessive attention to Jews [but perhaps that is just a tribute to its historical relevance]. Not for light reading.
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on 18 June 2012
There are three points mentioned by many other reviewers on this site which I would also like to address:

1) The main character.
There can be no doubt about it, Simonini is just about as hateful, craven, and ignorant a monster as you will come across in literature. I sincerely hope that you will find it impossible to identify with him. So most of the joy you will get from this character is likely to stem from the subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) giveaways through which Simonini betrays the profoundness of his stupidity, even of his madness.

2) The historical setting
Yes, this is set in the nineteenth century, largely in France and Italy, and an interest in what took place in that period culturally and politically is probably necessary to get into this novel. This is partly because the book suffers from a severe lack of plot and development - there is no mystery, nothing to be found out, no development of character. Simonini forges documents and is involved in other criminal activities, we know that from the start, and that is what he does right up until the end. The narrative ploy around the identity of Abbé Dalla Piccola is resolved in a way that is not exactly a let-down, but is also far from being a twist.

So what you are dealing with is in fact a series of episodes, loosely connected through the motif of conspiracy. I did not recognise many of the battles and political allusions, bar the Dreyfus affair, with which I am somewhat familiar. So for me, what I most connected to was how Eco weaves into his fiction allusions to the literary world, both that contemporary to his story and that not (thus for instance, the references to Léo Taxil contain anachronistic allusions to James Joyce).

Between them, these two aspects mean that this is a rather difficult book, centred not so much on plot and character than on an intriguing game around three levels of understanding which intersect and clash in various ways: how much Simonini knows, how much the narrator understands, and the knowledge that we, the 21st century readers, may have.
Which brings me directly to my last point.

3) Dan Brown
Comparisons of this book to the work of Dan Brown are in my opinion somewhat off the point. Brown writes thrillers, plot-boilers, which have historical fact and fiction crammed into them for entertainment. Apparently his work is badly researched, and in my own opinion, he relies on cheap effects where even the least bit of common sense shows you that he warps basic facts so they fit into his grid. For instance, he needs the Gnostic Gospels to be mysterious, secret, forbidden writings. They are not. Here's a Kindle edition:


Eco's approach to history is always twofold. As a storyteller, he gleefully indulges in anecdotes both obscure and canonical, and always it is understood that we are not meant to take everything as a faithful rendition of fact. At the same time, his is also the approach of the academic. Eco has a thorough understanding of many aspects of cultural history (he has written a number of good books on an impressive array of topics to do with history, philosophy, and art). This understanding informs his writing, and where he departs from fact, I would usually suspect he is conveying more than just plot.

Of the two authors, Eco is simply the more sceptical one, and his scepticism is reflected in his hesitation to present you with a simple solution. To him, there can never be a narrative master key, only the different reports of the different people who witnessed and now describe the same events. Of Dan Brown, Eco has said:

- "Dan Brown is one of the characters in my novel, `Foucault's Pendulum,' which is about people who start believing in occult stuff."
- Interviewer: "But you yourself seem interested in the kabbalah, alchemy and other occult practices explored in the novel."
- Eco: "No, in `Foucault's Pendulum' I wrote the grotesque representation of these kind of people. So Dan Brown is one of my creatures."

(Amazon won't let me post the source's web-address, but you can find the interview through Google by searching for "ny times magazine questions for umberto eco")

In conclusion
there remains to explain why I give this novel only four stars. Well, for all its qualities, amongst which are a pleasingly nonchalant style of writing, a main character whom I loved to hate, an amusing web of literary references, and a number of appetising recipes, there are enough problems here to make this one of Eco's weaker books. The plot, as I said, is thin, and the sheer number of characters we are confronted with can sometimes be difficult to manage, especially since none but Simonini and the Abbe Dalla Piccola achieve any vividness. Overall, this work can perhaps be said to share some of the faults of "Foucault's Pendulum," (lengthiness, a certain occasional dryness), and some of the strong points of "The Island of the Day Before" (witty use of the historical setting, black humour).
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on 13 November 2014
Excellent. A+++
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on 4 March 2012
The scale of the Novel is in keeping with the past great books. it is a brave Italian that, albeit through an anti hero, scorns Garibaldi and the Thousand!!It is true that it is patchy in places but, particularly when the action moves to France, he catches the menacing and chilling neurosis of the end of the Second Empire and the faltering start of the Third Republic perfectly. Simonini's evil character like many Jewish Conspiracy peddlars is combined with sybaritic tendancies. The restaurant scenes are amusingly done, particularly the meeting with Freud. Murder and fine dining were common Nazi pursuits and other reviewers who thought the book anti semitic were really off the page. The constant recalling of the anti hero's grandfather's xenophobia and the complicity of the Roman Catholic in his creation of the forged Protocols relects the time with some great humour but, but also recounts a reality of late 19th century Europe's obsession with the creation of the enemy within. it is the committment of the state in France Russia and Germany to perpetuate hatred of the Jews that feeds Simonini's epicurean appetite. And yes who couldn't wonder if there was in fact a bit of a dig at the outrageous plagarism of Focault's Pendulum in the character of Goedesche who steals some of the forgers (forged)material for a sensational and hit of a novel.
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on 7 December 2011
Simonini, Eco's anti-hero, is the most remarkable invention of the creative mind. This misanthrope, this misogynist, this anti-semite, anti-Jesuit, anti-masonic, anti-everybody but himself, is the most despicable person to "grace" the pages of the novel.
He is a forger, lier, cheat and betrayer of friends. He is so awful that at times he can't live with himself and adopts an alta-ego as a priest, at least that's my reading of this complex and intriguing story. He is so awful, that like the animated cartoon "Despicable me", you end up laughing at his cunning and his psychopathy. This is Eco at his best, weaving his fictional ant-hero into the weft of true historical events that include the genesis of the infamous forgery "The protocols of the elders of Zion", that is still on sale in a bookstore not far from you. Jews might find the constant anti-semitic rant put into Simonini's mouth, uncomfortable to stomach but do not despair, filth comes out of sewers and Simonini's mouth is a sewer.
His one saving grace is his gastronomic tastes and the book is scattered with details of mouth watering recipes and menus. Somehow Eco makes these Epicurean punctuations extremely funny as a counter-point to the sheer nastiness of the mouth that gorges on the food described.
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on 10 February 2012
I enjoyed learning some of the turbulent history of Italy and France from this intriguing novel. In this story we retrace the life of a man who has been mixed up in spying and deception, including the forging of documents, for his whole life; in fact it was his primary source of income.

Eco uses the same tool he used in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, i.e. the experience of an amnesiac recovering his memory, to unfold the history leading up to the time when the narrator is telling his tale. Captain Simon Simonini is not the most pleasant of men as is attested early in the book when he lambasts, in the most explicit of terms, his distaste of firstly Jews, then the Germans, next the French, the Italians, the Catholic Church (especially Jesuits), and Freemasons. At one point he concludes that Jesuits are merely Masons dressed as women. At several points in the story he expresses his total distaste of all things female. It appears there is no-one in the world he likes.

His one saving grace is his delight in good food, and we are treated to descriptions of some delicious meals, and even a couple of recipes.

Eco's shrewd observations and use of language provide the reader with some great phrases and generalised descriptions, all this adding to the flavour of the book and helping to demonstrate the way Simonini's mind works.

The Prague Cemetery is about governments wanting to manipulate groups of people, and to steer public opinion in a direction that leaves the politicians, or should I say the people in power, free to build up their own position and wealth. In particular, Eco deals with the deliberate ploy to instil hatred of Jews around the world.

The explicitly named central target of this book is the forged document known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This document was produced by the Russians in 1905 to stir up hatred and convince the world that there was a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.

Some people have interpreted Eco's book as being anti-Semitic, but it is quite the opposite. It emphasised the phoney nature of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and uses this forged document to describe how people can manipulate opinion and use false documents to create their desired political environment. The case used in this book is the stirring up of hatred towards the Jews, but it can be interpreted on a more general level as describing the tendency governments have for creating a common enemy for the people to focus their attention on and act as a distraction to allow the government get on with bettering the position of its members. It is exactly the type of ploy used after the Cold War to vilify the Iranians as a replacement for the Soviets; and the creation of a clear and present danger, such as the abuse of intelligence reports to justify the start of the second Gulf War.

I enjoyed this book and intend to dip into it often to pull out phrases and to re-read some of Eco's clever prose. Eco's books do not always appeal to me but I found this one great entertainment and quite informative.
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on 1 January 2013
I had heard great things about Umberto Eco and this book was highlighted as a good read in Waterstone and Amazon. Never having read Umberto Eco, I really didn't know what to expect. I wasn't surprised at the slow start, but that slow start got longer, the tale got more complicated and i got confused. I suppose I am not the only person who will get confused but I did finish the book. Used it while I power-walked. The tale has a lot of irrelevant dat - it reads likes a recipe book in places. Does it hold the attention? Is it a page turner, no and no.

I felt that the tale was over complicated and I really didn't see the point of some of the subplots. I also thought that the only chapter which stood out , no in fact there were two chapters, was the one with the black mass - maybe Umberta wanted to through in some spice to keep his readers interested and the last chapter, which is also the shortest. I won't spoil the story by telling you about the last chapter, but for me if that chapter had been the first I would have had more interest in the story.

Maybe the book is only for fans of Eco.
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on 8 May 2012
I read this book without having read any reviews of it. I'm glad I did, because I might have been put off. I regard this as the best of those of Umberto Eco's books that I have read. It is filled with playfulness, led by a strong narrative voice that we are immediately taught to distrust and see as disreputable but that is possessed by a verve that overcomes that slightly arch knowingness that Umberto Eco too often succumbs to. The immense research that Umberto Eco must have undertaken is very lightly worn and his art is so consummate that everything smacks of that version of the truth that self-serving authors always emit. I found the ending slightly weak, but there was so much that was good in this, after having been immersed in the innate anti-Semitism and wild conspiracies of the 19th century, that I can forgive that. Unlike the narrator of this book, you should read it without prejudice.
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