Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Review: Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco

I've never really actually seen 300, but I always got a giggle with the line, "This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this." This is less because I find rape funny, more because I found the Slate review of the movie fantastic:
Here are just a few of the categories that are not-so-vaguely conflated with the "bad" (i.e., Persian) side in the movie: black people. Brown people. Disfigured people. Gay men (not gay in the buff, homoerotic Spartan fashion, but in the effeminate Persian style). Lesbians. Disfigured lesbians. Ten-foot-tall giants with filed teeth and lobster claws. Elephants and rhinos (filthy creatures both). The Persian commander, the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is a towering, bald club fag with facial piercings, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a disturbing predilection for making people kneel before him.
 But I came here not for 300, but for The Island of the Day Before. Similarly, though, it was very long, and I did not enjoy it. Which is odd, honestly, because I loved Eco's Foucault's Pendulum - one of my favorite books. This one was a whole lot more like, well, slogging through 500 pages written by a Semiotics professor.

The plot is kind of fantastic, though. A man gets shipwrecked, latches onto a raft, and then washes up onto an abandoned ship. He can't swim, so now he's shipwrecked on a ship. this ship, of course, is riddled with secrets.

And then, lecturing ensues. It's all about Renaissance thought and the shaky move from Godly knowledge to secular knowledge. Again, this sounds really interesting, but somehow it wasn't executed that way. I think Eco tried to get a little too clever with his story-telling, going for the non-linear narrative, but its just not all that well executed. That said, Jules Mazarin makes an appearance, and its always nice to see him. A major plot point is the sheer inscrutability of the International Date Line and the complexity of Longitude, which is a Thing, I guess. My favorite explanation of Noah's Flood comes up in the book (the flood is full of yesterday's water coming into today), which is really neat also. Seriously, ask me some time to explain this flood theory to you, it's great stuff.

But unlike the other Eco books I've read, this one isn't more than the sum of its parts. I just never got into it as much, and I doubt I would've been able to read the whole thing if I wasn't traveling so much. So I don't have a great verdict for this one, go ahead and skip it.

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