The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (Italy)

by EcoUmberto Eco.

Courtesy of Auntie’s Bookstore


What a writer.

The dangerous part about reading this book on the bus is that there’s always at least one creepy guy. So here I am reading along, my eyes on the left page, and I feel the creepy guy’s eyes on me. My eyes drift over to the right and lo and behold, there’s a pornographic illustration! My hand shoots out and covers it up. Which is fine when I’m reading the left page. But then…

Do I turn the page, covering up the part where OMG BLANK is sucking on BLANK’s exposed BLANK and risk losing the plot? Yes. Several times. Fortunately this was during the second half of the book, which is nothing more than an extended retelling of every Flash Gordon comic ever printed. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a guy thing.

map of italySometimes I liked the long lists of quotations from songs, books, movies, and ads and sometimes they felt like a huge information dump. My writer’s group would never let me get away with that. Just saying.

PART ONE (The good part)

The writing is lyrical. I liked the non-sexualized illustrations, which were of old stamps, comic book covers, recordings…it was unusual. I felt the plot promised a fascinating and satisfying resolution: An antiquarian bookseller wakes from a fog, in the hospital and remembers every book he’s ever read, but no details of his personal life. Unfortunately, Eco fails to deliver.

We’re in the small Italian village of Solara, rooting around in the attic and remembering bits of our childhood during World War II. (This was fascinating, since I haven’t read much about the Italian experience under Mussolini. They had a colony in Africa? Who knew.) The protagonist has been flaunting doctor’s orders by drinking a bottle of wine at lunch every day, smoking, and running around raising his blood pressure, when WHAM…

gelatoPART TWO (The disappointing part)

Are we in a coma? Are we dead? Is the writer out of ideas but facing a deadline at his publishers? Did he just give up on these characters? Who knows. Worse still, who cares? I’m definitely not a guy, and definitely not Italian. I know Italians have a different sensibility about sex than Americans, but I’m just not interested in Yambo’s first ejaculation or his early memories of sexual arousal which seem so important to the character (and yet he never remembers meeting his wife or having 2 kids).

northern Italy lakeI don’t like metafiction–never have. I like plot. I like logic. And I especially like having interesting questions raised and then finding out the answers. What happens to the rare old book Yambo finds in the attic just before his second “incident”?

You’ll never know. It’s dropped, like the storyline, in mid-book.

Rating: One dish of squid spaghetti. Spaghetti: delicious. Squid: not so much.

If you would like to read something by Umberto Eco, I found The Name of the Rose to be everything this book was not, and then some.

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