Reasons for reading it: I liked The name of the Rose enough to give Eco another try, even though I didn't get on too well with Foucault's Pendulum.
How it came into my hands: One of my more successful charity shop raids, I think in Oxford but it might have been in Southampton. In any case I was with hatam_soferet who is one of my favourite people to go book hunting with. And the Vintage edition is rather nice, as it happens.
Baudolino lived up to my expectations. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and thinky, and a good story. It does drag in places, but the very great majority of it is thoroughly engaging. It does the explicitly unreliable narrator trope and other metafiction stuff very well, something which can easily fall into cleverness for its own sake, but Eco avoids that. And the humour is delightfully sly, on all kinds of levels. I loved the way Baudolino creates a sense of period, but at the same time makes all kinds of allusions to the contemporary world. And the mystery element works both on the surface as a whodunnit, and also as a parody of locked room puzzle mysteries.
I also really enjoyed the in character philosophical discussions. Reading about other people having philosophical discussions is almost always less fun than actually taking part in such discussions, but Eco manages to present this kind of thing without seeming didactic. And there are lots of ideas that are fun to think about, while they at least create the illusion of being in period rather than just modern philosophical issues put into the mouths of the Mediaeval characters.
The characters worked for me, and I think that's really what carried the story. Even though it's playing around with ambiguity about whether the events described really happened or are a product of Baudolino's febrile imagination, the actual plot is still enjoyable to read about and I cared about the fates of the characters. OK, there are a few minor comic relief characters who are personifications of one eccentricity and nothing more, but enough of the major characters are fleshed out for that not to matter. I didn't get a sense of how clever the whole novel is until the end, whereas when I was actually reading I was caught up in the immediate events and only partly aware of the cross-references and the playing around with narrative order and the generally baroque structure.
In some ways I want to draw a connection between Baudolino and The Worm Ouroboros, but it's hard to put my finger on exactly why the two are similar. Almost I would say that Baudolino is the spiritual ancestor of Eddison, even though they exist on different planes of reality!
Hmmm. I did find Foucault's Pendulum hard to get into -- I read too many easy books, and have to retune my mind when I read something denser -- but I loved it as much as Name of the Rose when I'd read it. I know a lot of it went over my head (his essays on translating his books make it clear :)), but what there was was enough to satiate me.
I had the impression Baudalino was going to be harder and had been putting it off, but it sounds like I should fish a copy out after all.
Interesting thought. I think some of the best books are extremely readable; I'm not at all a snob on that level, so I wouldn't say I read too many easy books. But if something is very dense (or, alternatively, very long), it needs to be of an exceptional standard as well, or it isn't worth the extra effort. And I just didn't find Foucault's pendulum rewarding. I could see that it was doing some clever things, but it wasn't working for me at a superficial level, so I didn't feel motivated to put in the kind of serious thought that would possibly have allowed me to make sense of all the clever stuff.
Interesting thought. I think some of the best books are extremely readable; I'm not at all a snob on that level, so I wouldn't say I read too many easy books
Indeed, it's a fallacy to think that because something is difficult it must be worthwhile (in all of life, but including books); OSC has a lot to say say at the end of Ender's Game about how he was unfairly criticised because the book was accessible and some of my favorites are books like DWJ (or even winnie-the-pooh :)) which are shorter, but perfectly crafted.
But there are ideal balances (see below), and a lot of the time I relax by reading things I can skim down without really engaging at all. Whether or not it matters is beside the point, I just wanted to put my opinion of Pendulum into perspective.
But if something is very dense (or, alternatively, very long), it needs to be of an exceptional standard as well, or it isn't worth the extra effort.
Yeah. Perhaps it's that more plot, more ideas, etc, tend to require a more complicated book, but in fact it's best to write as simply as will convey what you want. But because some of the best books are forced to be more complex, and need work to appreciate, people come to think of that as laudable in itself, and forget the books which are good but happen to be able to be expressed more elegantly.
For instance, one of my favorites is Cryptonomicon. Some people find it needlessly confusing, but that discoursive style is exactly what *I* love about it, so I couldn't change it.
Where does Foucault's Pendulum fall? I loved the characters, mainly, I think. Some of the density is necessary to paint them, but in fact *I'd* probably have enjoyed it more if some of the extra description and circumlocution were cut out.
However, I had the impression that maybe that was important to some people, and in a few years I'd read it again and not know how it hadn't meant anything to me. But I don't know if I'm falling into the "must be good because I don't understand it" trap or not.
because some of the best books are forced to be more complex, and need work to appreciate, people come to think of that as laudable in itself Yes, that expresses very elegantly how complex gets confused with good (which tends to imply that simple equates to bad, too, an even worse confusion).
Where does Foucault's Pendulum fall? I loved the characters, mainly, I think. I'm the opposite, I think. What really stopped me from getting into Foucault's pendulum was not that it's too hard, but that I couldn't really relate to the characters, and that made reading a lot less fun.
I'm the opposite, I think. What really stopped me from getting into Foucault's pendulum was not that it's too hard, but that I couldn't really relate to the characters, and that made reading a lot less fun.
Ah, fair enough. Then it sounds like we have a case of a genuine difference in personal preference. That shouldn't be so rare! :)
But, no I liked it. I felt that if I and my friends were transplanted, Cambridge to Italy, and 20 years old to 30 years old, and mathematicians to historians, we would be having exactly those conversations; and maybe even doing the same sort of things. It seemed like a pleasent, normal, but slightly tarnished life, which I could see myself having if I wasn't fortunate enough that my obsessions are reasonably employable.
This is funny - I normally agree with you about books! - but I love Foucault's Pendulum, but only really started to after the second read through.
I thought Baudolino was good too, especially the narrative style. It's interesting how much work must have gone into the translation too, as there were all those strange bits in Latin-ish - I wonder how different they are in Italian.
In a way I'm not surprised you appreciated Foucault's pendulum more than I did; you have a much more comprehensive literary background. And yes, I do get the impression that translating Eco is quite some job; even reading in translation there's an awful lot of multilingual wordplay going on.