30 December 2015

"Numero Zero"

Image result for numero zero umberto eco

Lisa and Attilio were kind enough to add to my collection of Umberto Eco novels for Christmas. Numero Zero is Eco's most recent book and at 191 pages it's a short read.

Numero Zero most reminds me of the sprawling Foucault's Pendulum where fiction becomes reality because enough people believe that the fiction is true. A theme of fictional reality (or the reality of a fiction) makes sense when one recalls that Eco is a leading figure in the field of semiotics. The plot of Numero Zero is far more prosaic than Foucault's Pendulum and, as I take it, was a send-up of Italian politics (principally in the unnamed but looming figure of Silvio Berlusconi) and Italian newspapers.

Well-written and well-translated, the plot kept my interest but came to an abrupt and unsatisfying end. Of most interest to me was Eco's precise description of how the print media (the book was set in 1992) manipulates its readers even in its reporting of basic facts. The techniques of innuendo, selecting and ordering of quotes, arrangement of stories on a page, "retractions" of mistakes, etc. are fully and humorously described. Of course, in the current world of social media we can generally trust readers to deceive themselves, which makes the manipulator's job almost too easy.

All told, a nice story but not a great one. The Name of the Rose remains Eco's greatest work of fiction but Numero Zero is a nice snack for those who enjoy his work.

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