Foucalt’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco: A review

Seventeenth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.

What could one want from a historical yet fictional novel? That it be accurate when it is talking of history and that it be filled with spectacular fictional tales. In Foucalt’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco delivers on both counts.

This is a book that is full of historical facts and some amazing conspiracy theories. There are so many of them, that every other line has a reference to some obscure cult or secret organization with events that document their historical presence. Umberto Eco knows a lot and he has done his homework thoroughly well. He must be tremendously well read and he doesn’t shy away from showing off his great arsenal of legends and histories that he has gathered from all the obscure and rare manuscripts that he must have read. Every chapter in Foucalt’s Pendulum begins with an extract from some publication on history or some historical document and somehow, as if magically, Umberto Eco wraps his chapter in this extract and weaves it into the story!

foucalts pendulum coverThe main focus of the book are the Knights of the Temple. He has devoted a major portion of the book to cover their rise and fall and their trial and has peppered it with innumerable interesting anecdotes that make it a delightful read. But you will also find in this book everything from the secrets of the serpent Kundalini to the mysteries of the sephirots of the Kabbala. And if that wasn’t enough, he has also added a dash of mysticism and Druidic history and a bit of Islamic symbolism and history as well. But he doesn’t stop there. He’s also managed to pull in Napoleon and Hitler into the story!

The story is in flashback mode with the opening of the book revealing to the reader how the ending will pan out. The rest of the book slowly unravels the events that lead to the situation that the protagonist finds himself in the beginning of the book. The narrative is a crisp first person account and very personal, as if Umberto Eco himself is relating the story to you. The conversations between the various characters are free flowing despite being about heavy historical topics.

It is true that the story is slightly difficult to follow if you aren’t willing to do a bit of a Google search every now and then, but the Googling is definitely worth it and will only make your experience of reading this much that much more enriching. But even if you don’t want to do that, you will still enjoy the story. It flows so well and all the elements fall into place so neatly and everything is explained so well by Eco, that after a few chapters, you don’t really have to go that often to look up something, you somehow get a feel for it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the flourish with which Eco has written the story; it flows really well. And the little stories within the story are so well connected that they flow seamlessly together building up a nice little climax with quite a bit of philosophical insight. There are also a number of pop culture references in the book that will make you smile.

This isn’t a book that must be read in a hurry (as I did). It is something that should be read slowly, absorbing all the little tidbits of information and the nuggets of history that it has to offer. In fact, so rich is the book with these bits and pieces of history that you could read the book multiple times and still find something new. I’m looking forward to the second time that I read this book.

You might want to take a look at the excerpts from the book.

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4 comments

  1. I read it years ago and really can’t remember anything about it so I think I might have to give it another go one day. Have you read The Name of the Rose? You’re right that Eco must be astonishingly well read!

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    1. I haven’t read The Name of the Rose, but I’ve heard it’s really good. This is supposed to be the follow up to that book and if you’ll notice, the cover of this book announces Eco as the author of The Name of the Rose.

      Have you read it? Does it have to do with Rosicrucianism?

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      1. I’m not sure if Rosicrucianism comes into it. It was quite a few years ago that I read it. At its simplest level it’s a murder mystery set in a monastery, but it includes lots of references to philosophy and medieval thinking. It’s a great story.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks! I’ll check it out.

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