Friday 13 January 2012

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco - Book Review

Title: The Prague Cemetery
Author: Umberto Eco
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Publication Date: November 2011 (2010)
Pages: 430
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Xmas Gift

Nineteenth-century Europe—from Turin to Palermo, to Prague, to Paris—abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious—The Jesuits who plot against the Freemasons, Freemasons, Carbonari and Mazzinians who strangle priests with their own intestines, a bow-legged arthritic Garibaldi, the Dreyfus affair, the makings of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious forgery, that was to inspire Hitler in his creation of concentration camps, machinations by secret services in Piedmont, France, Russia, and Prussia, massacres during the Commune in Paris, where people eat mice, stabbings, befouled haunts for criminals who, among the fumes of absinthe, plan bombings and rebellions in the streets, false beards, false lawyers, false wills, an abbĂ© who dies twice, a hysterical female Satanist, celebrants of black masses—gore enough to satisfy the worst in readers.

Except for one detail. Apart from the protagonist, all of the characters in this novel existed and did what they did. The protagonist also does things that actually happened, except that many of these things were likely done by different people. But who knows—when you are dealing with secret services, double agents, traitorous officials and sinning priests, anything can happen. And does.
(Goodreads Synopsis)

I had been really looking forward to reading this book, not least because it is written by Umberto Eco and I have enjoyed some of his previous stories. Sadly though, I came away rather disappointed.

It had all sounded very exciting and interesting: spies, conspiracies and a world of reality-meets-fiction suspense. But I actually just found the book dull and plodding. The character of Simonini never appealed to me and I just couldn't raise any enthusiasm for either the story or the writing style. I was determined to get to the end, but I found myself skimming more and more in an effort to do so.

This is a book that deals with the unification of Italy and the growth of anti-Semitism and yet it was approached in a bland way through a story that was at times bizarre and at times completely unintelligible.

That said, I can certainly appreciate the cleverness of Eco's approach in regards to the style of the piece and I'm sure many of his die-hard fans out there will enjoy it. However, I would certainly not recommend this as a good starting point for anyone new to his work.

At the end of the day, I am giving it two stars as, while it was not my cup of tea, I can appreciate the work that went into it and it was a very ambitious piece.

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