A well-known writer is very much like a brand name – once she’s known, often people will buy her writings just because she wrote them. It’s like a Gucci bag – the bag could be an ugly POS, but people are going to buy it anyway, because it’s Gucci.
This is how I feel about Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery. I bought it because it was by Eco – how could it not be fabulous? I got the book and dove in, so excited to be dazzled and lost in an amazing story. Didn’t quite happen that way. I’ve been lugging around the book for over a month now, and I can’t finish it. I’m about ¾ of the way through it, and I just don’t care. I don’t care about the main character, I don’t care about the story, I still haven’t figured out WTF is happening, and guess what, if you haven’t caught on yet, I don’t care. So today, I gave up, and stopped reading it. I’m wasting valuable reading time on a story that is driving me bonkers.
The book’s main character, Simonini, hates everyone and everything. The Jews, women, the Freemasons, various kinds of Italians, everyone. At first, it was tough to read, but considering that was very much 19th century thing … fair enough. The depiction of the hate of the period, from a very specific point of view, was well done. There are some serious gems in the writing as well, passages that are timeless, about people and the human condition, and get you thinking.
For example, here: The old assassin taught me that men never see what is right before their eyes. They look in corners and under rocks, but if you are standing in front of them, they will pass you by, believing you to be no more than an olive tree, a part of the landscape, and nothing more.
Or here: People only believe what they already know, and this is the beauty of the Universal Form of Conspiracy.
Or here: To imagine that we are a necessary part in the order of the universe is… the same as superstition for uncultured people. You cannot change the world through ideas. People with few ideas are less likely to make mistakes; they follow what everyone else does and are no trouble to anyone; they’re successful, make money, find good jobs, enter politics, receive honours…
But the story goes on and on and on, not sure of what is happening or why, getting lost in so much detail that when I was able to grasp at some kind of thread, I lost it quickly. Too much detail about food. I get it – Simonini’s a foodie. He a gluttonous jerk that likes food more than he likes people. But enough already. Also, at one point someone attacks him, but of course in a long, convoluted dialogue, explains to Simonini how he got there and why. Really? It was situations like this that made me feel like this book wasn’t even edited.
So in the end, I just couldn’t do it. I put it down, and am going to pick up something by someone probably less illustrious, but hopefully more enjoyable to read. I may get back to it, as I feel guilty about not finishing it, but not for a while. I’ve lost enough time on this one as it is. I’ll leave the ugly Gucci for someone else’s enjoyment.