Details: (c) 2000 RCS Libri SpA; Pub Vintage 2003; translated William Weaver 2002; ISBN 0-099-42239-5
Verdict: Baudolino is great fun.
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!