Hear ye! Hear ye! The new novel by Umberto Eco is out!
Published in Italy last year by Bompiani, the title of the brilliant semioticist's fifth novel translates as "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana: An Illustrated Novel." And as you might expect, it is a stunner. Translated into English by Geoffrey Brock, and not not due to be released in the United States by Harcourt until June 3, 2005, I was able to get my hands on a copy last week when my local bookseller made the stupendous error of putting the books out early.
I am now a couple hundred pages into the story which concerns Giambattista "Yambo" Bodoni, an antiquarian book dealer from Milan who loses his memory after a mild stroke. In an attempt to deal with his amnesia, he travels to his childhood home, where he begins to reconstruct his life through all the things he has read through the years--a collection of old newspapers, comic books, school papers, record albums, adventure novels, classics, and old family diaries. After a few days he has another cardiac-episode and slips into a coma from whence he begins to have increasingly strange hallucinations. As the subtitle indicates, the work is heavily illustrated, with accompanying images reflecting Yambo's collection of memorabilia.
As with all of Eco's works (this is his third major publication in English this year) "The Mysterious Flame" attempts to deal with life, the universe, and everything. It is by turns breathtaking in its scope of knowledge from every conceivable realm and discipline and disappointing in its blatant skepticism and base sensuality. There is hardly a writer alive more capable of wielding the pen as a such a sharp sword. But there is hardly a writer alive who has a more desultory worldview--a kind of longing for the truth whilst shrugging off any hope that such truth may actually be found. Like the earlier works of George Eliot or Oscar Wilde or James Joyce, Eco always seems to create a magnificently beautiful tragedy.