Don’t expect the earthquake power of The Name of the Rose in this one. Don’t even expect the addictive confusion of Foucault’s Pendulum. Umberto Eco never does the same job twice. After he’s done it once it doesn’t need doing again. Even though the reader-heart might hunger, grovel and beg.
So the monastic whodunit, the Dante-esque tour through a maze of mist and myth are replaced by the subtle, savage Eco wit, a God’s Little Acre fantasy, and inevitable, once again, awe. Where the hell does a writer such as Eco come from? Why can’t I create characters, plots, webs of credible craziness to challenge dreams and nightmares?
For instance, near the time of the 4th Crusade sack of Constantinople:
“[I] told the whole story to my father Galiaudo who said you big booby getting mixed up with sieges and the like one of these days you’ll get a pike up your ass that stuff is all for the lords and masters so let them stew in their own juice because we have the cows to worry about and we’re serious folk forget about Frederick, first he comes then he goes then he comes back and it adds up to fuckall.”
Yeah, we’re talking the 4th Crusade. It ain’t enough Baudolino, a peasant lad, befriends Frederick Barbarossa, gets himself adopted and sent off to Paris for schooling. Eco’s not going to be satisfied until he can rain it down knee-deep. He sends Baudolino off searching for Prester John, where plots, characters and settings have some elbow room.
Gargantua and Pentagruel, by Umberto Eco, more-or-less. If you can’t laugh until you cry reading Rabelais, you’d best stay-the-hell away from Baudolino. But if, on the other hand, you can, if you’ve done it so many times you roar when you notice Gargantua on the bookshelf, you need Baudolino. And quite possibly some professional help.
A damned good book. A keeper.