Sunday, August 07, 2005

Review of Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Review of Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
(Translated from the original in Italian)

The novel said to be a thinking man's 'Da Vinci Code' and written in 1988, is dense (500+ pages) in historical references and is almost like an encyclopaedia of European and Jewish religious and occult history. It has all the ingredients of the Templars - the knights of the Christian holy order, the crusades, the Jewish symbology related to the universe and the hidden facts, philosophy and theological wisdom and cabalistic secrets that are coming on since ages, preserved by secret societies and rituals all over the world.

This novel depicts the intellectual game of three editors of an Italian publishing firm which specializes in all studies of historical importance. The book is a roller coaster ride into the minds of those engrossed in the history of mystical and occult sciences. To read it once may not suffice as the author puts in so much detail that at times it may be difficult to go on. The narration is in first person, by one of the editors who graduates and later joins two other editors to form the trio of Belbo, Diatollevi and Casaboun (the narrator).

It starts with a certain colonel coming up with a manuscript with a secret message in a cryptic puzzle format which the editors at once take up. But later on the colonel disappears and the three start to decipher the meaning of the message. They come up with a spectacular plan that suggests that the templars knew of a secret source of energy within the earth's telluric currents that is all powerful. This secret they passed on from generation to generation, the message they conjecture, holds details about who and where each generation would transfer the messages and how many members would be involved. Though the book is full of esoteric details, the author himself a renowned philosopher and symbologist, has poked a good dose of fun at intellectuals themselves.

The editors start reading up manuscripts of crazy occult experts who submit their work to their publishing house along with a twin house that they have which publishes books only if the authors them selves pays the charges. 'Diabolicals' as they call the authors with all their strange historical works. Along the way they come across a person with great knowledge of the templars and the bearers of the holy truths whom they employ to verify the truths of the authors and who later turns out to be the villain. They also end up attending some rituals, as Eco describes, details of and reasons behind trances, initiations, pagan rituals etc.

As the editors read up these absurd and fantastic manuscripts along the way doing their own research and one of the editors also starts feeding them to a computer of his, which can make connections between data fed into it. This way they start making connections between various individuals and personalities from the ancient ages like Bacon and St Germain upto even Hitler and thus concoct this heady plan based on a message that is found to be some trivial list later and they also conjecture that the plans to hand over the secret from generations until the period of World War II had failed and the details were known by the Jews, the templars and also shared with other monks and leaders of other religions such as Islam and also some bit of Indian tantra is thrown in. Only towards the end it is seen that the plan is being taken seriously to be literally true, by some members of a particular secret society.

Eco tries to convey the futility of conspiracy theories and how people would just about believe anything that is hyped up with the belief of gaining some immense power - being superhuman. He says that everything can be connected in this world just by some trivial logic and various scientific things can be explained this way, that does not mean, there is some vast secret hidden from all, known only by a few.
Apart from the story and the plot itself, the way Eco has fleshed out the characters, their past, their tumultuous current lives and relationships and everything else is brilliant. You need a lot of patience - it is as if the author expects you to plough through the mountain of knowledge in order to reach the climax which ends in death of one of the editors due to cancer and a hallucination like tragedy at the Museum Conservatoire in Paris where Foucault's Pendulum hangs. A thriller, a historical masterpiece and many other genres can be used to describe this book which spans from Milan to Brazil to Paris. A very intellectual read indeed.


  1. Very nice review of the book. But I think I will skip it. I don't think I have the patience to read it.

  2. Its not that big I feel, max of 5 minutes ...
    If you never read it, then how can you say the review is very nice ? ;-)

  3. You got me wrong. I meant I will skip the book. I did read your review.

  4. Oops, perfectly ambiguous grammer, and I misinterpreted.