Archive for July 11th, 2011

Umberto Eco – The Island Of The Day Before

Monday, July 11th, 2011

The novels of Umberto Eco are famous for its erudition. The author delves into a vast range of curious subjects and displays great detail in describing them while putting them in their natural habitat within the story. More than his other works (for so far that I’ve read them) The Island Of The Day Before (1994) is such a novel. Taking place halfway during the seventeenth century everything is told from a seventeenth century perspective even as the story is told from a third-person view.

This perspective is also the strongest part of the novel. The reader gets induced in the physics and philosophy of those times although there is a fantastical element to it. The sheer complexity and details that Eco presents are quite stunning and captivating. Even though some things are obviously fantastical it is hard to distinguish what is and what isn’t.

Another element that marks this novel is the story within the story. There are actually many of them and in some ways they can be seen a digressions in which we explore certain topics. The negative effect of this is that the reader can get lost in where the story is heading, more profoundly it even causes a lack of focus within the story as it continuously loses pace and momentum and does not seem to progress much.

So what the book actually seems to become is an exploration of seventeenth century beliefs and ideas for which the story forms the setting.

This is also what makes or breaks this book. If you are looking for an engaging and exciting story you will not be satisfied. There are some parts which are enjoyable but this book seems to aim more at exploring ideas of the seventeenth century than at telling a powerful and captivating story. When I started this book I had no idea and expected to get at least an entertaining story but this I didn’t really get. In that sense it was unsatisfactory to me. Although the digressions and explorations of different topics in a seventeenth century view are certainly an impressive feat they were not that interesting to me because we know now that many have turned out wrong. So it is all about the mindset with which you read this book if you will like it or not. Most people will probably not like it much. It was amusing at times to me but often the digressions were simply too long and long-winded to hold on to my attention. As I’ve read other works by Umberto Eco I know he’s not a consistent writer. Every novel is different from the other although they have certain elements in common. In my personal experience this is the weakest I’ve read but as mentioned before it is all a matter of taste.