I’m still trying to catch up with some of the reviews I haven’t posted yet, and as I was checking, it struck me that two books by two very well-known authors (one who has unfortunately left us since I read the book) had Zero in their titles, and I couldn’t resist to bring them together. I’m not sure there’s much to link them otherwise (one of the writers is Italian, the other from the US, the themes are in no way related, nor are their styles) although it’s true that both of these books are perhaps fairly different to their usual novels. Whatever the reason, here they are.
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
From the best-selling author of The Name of the Rose and The Prague Cemetery, a novel about the murky world of media politics, conspiracy, and murder
A newspaper committed to blackmail and mud slinging, rather than reporting the news.
A paranoid editor, walking through the streets of Milan, reconstructing fifty years of history against the backdrop of a plot involving the cadaver of Mussolini’s double.
The murder of Pope John Paul I, the CIA, red terrorists handled by secret services, twenty years of bloodshed, and events that seem outlandish until the BBC proves them true.
A fragile love story between two born losers, a failed ghost writer, and a vulnerable girl, who specializes in celebrity gossip yet cries over the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. And then a dead body that suddenly appears in a back alley in Milan.
Set in 1992 and foreshadowing the mysteries and follies of the following twenty years, Numero Zero is a scintillating take on our times from the best-selling author of The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.
Here my review:
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco. Satire, conspiracy, politics, media… although not sure it’s a novel.
Thanks to Net Galley and to Vintage Digital for offering me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve read some of the reviews by many readers who have followed Eco’s literary career. All seem to agree that this book cannot compare to some of the other novels he’s written, although some like it nonetheless, whilst others are disparaging of it.
For me, Umberto Eco is a writer who’s always been on my bucket list but never quite made it (or perhaps I read The Name of the Rose translated to Spanish many years back, but as I don’t remember it, I’ll assume I didn’t). When I saw this opportunity I decided not to miss it.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Numero Zero is quite different from anything I had imagined.
The beginning of the book is very intriguing, and it presents a writer/translator (Colonna) who swiftly explains his current situation. He is convinced that somebody has entered his house and he is in fear for his life.
Following this introduction to the main character, Colonna goes back to describe how he got there. The background to his current situation is what forms most of the novel, and we only return to the original point very late in the book (when there are only a few pages left).
Colonna describes himself as a loser and he has accepted a very strange job: to record the memoirs of a man who is setting up a newspaper, Domani. Only the newspaper will never get published, and the whole project is a way of manipulating contacts, allies and enemies by a third interested party.
There are descriptions of the reporters, a motley crew, fairly quirky, but none particularly talented or known. The ones we get to know more about are Braggadocio, who’s always investigating some conspiracy or other (eventually coming to the conclusion that it is all part of a single huge conspiracy, involving Mussolini, the Vatican, the CIA, European governments…), and the only woman, Maia, who has a very special personality, but seems the only one with some sense of ethics and morals. By a strange process of osmosis, Colonna and Maia end up in a relationship, the one bright and hopeful point of the whole novel, however, weird the coupling seems.
Rather than well-developed characters and situations, Numero Zero seems an exercise in exposing current society (although the story is set in 1992), the press, media, politics… and their lack of substance. Also the lack of interest in serious stories by the population at large, and our collective poor memory. As a satire I enjoyed it enormously, and although most of the characters experience no change (we don’t get too attached to them either, as they seem to be mostly just two-dimensional beings representing a single point of view), I thought Maia become more realistic, cynical and enlightened by the end of the book. And I found Colonna’s final reflection about Italy hilarious. (No offence to Italy. I think all the countries are going the same way if not there already. I’m Spanish and I definitely had to nod).
I agree with many of the comments that the disquisitions and tirades of Braggadocio are relentless, but reflect a paranoid character (and perhaps, although he accuses Maia of being autistic, there is more than a bit of obsessiveness in his personality), the comments about the newspaper, how to write articles, and the press I found illuminating (yes, and funny), and overall I enjoyed the book, although as I said, it’s not my idea of a novel.
So I find myself in a similar situation to when I reviewed Satin Island. I enjoyed it (not as much as Satin Island, but it made me laugh more than once), but it is a novel that’s perhaps not a novel, with not very well developed characters, and an anecdote at its heart rather than a plot. There you are. You decide if you want to read it or not. Ah, and it’s short.
Paperback: $ 14.95 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero-Umberto-Eco/dp/0544811836/
Hardback: $19.14 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero-Umberto-Eco/dp/0544635086/
Audio: $ 17.72 http://www.amazon.com/Numero-Zero/dp/B016QTSTCY/
Zero K by Don DeLillo. The search for meaning and control
The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time—an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.
Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.
“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”
These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”
Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”
Zero K is glorious.
Thanks to Scribner and to Net Galley for providing me a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve read novels by Don DeLillo before and enjoyed them although I haven’t read all of them. I was curious to read this novel, and I’ve also noticed that Zero keeps appearing in the title of novels I’m reading these days (not sure what it says about me but…).
I’m not sure exactly what to say about this novel. On the surface, it’s a story written in the first person by a character, Jeff, who goes through a very strange experience. His wealthy father, Ross, and his stepmother, Artis, have asked him to go with them to a strange facility, the Convergence, where his stepmother, who is terminally ill, thanks to new scientific processes including cryogenics, is going to be frozen in the hope that in the future they’ll find the cure for her condition and she will live again, seemingly forever. The trip and the experience are confusing and disorienting, as not only is Jeff not sure where he is, but the compound seems designed to make people lose their bearings. Doors that aren’t really doors, rooms stripped bare, strange speeches mixing up seemingly spiritual, philosophical, religious, ecological and economic subjects with a somewhat apocalyptic and sect-like underlying message. Jeff’s father is very wealthy and has invested heavily in the programme, but Jeff isn’t quite convinced. His attempts at finding meaning in the process and get some control over it range from mentally giving names to people, inventing the background for the individuals he meets, trying to imagine their stories… In many ways, that’s the same we, as readers are asked to do. We are not expected to be simply passive receivers of a story or of a meaning but must collaborate with the author and create a joint one.
As a reader, I find it easier to connect to books and novels where I empathise or I’m very interested in its characters. In the case of the main character and guiding conscience of this novel, it’s not a straightforward process. Do we really get to know Jeff? We know how he thinks and what it feels like to be inside of his head, what his relationship with his father and his stepmother is like (at least what he thinks it’s like) and in part two we get to glimpse into a relationship he gets into, although mostly through his references to the adopted son of his girlfriend, a very special boy. Jeff is articulate, erudite, curious, a keen observer and seems to live inside of his head, but he seems to mostly react to others and to the situation analysing everything to death, rather than doing anything or deciding anything. In a way, he’s perhaps as frozen and paralysed as Artis and Ross, but they’ve made a decision, however, egotistical and self-aggrandizing it might be, while he remains the passive observer. For me, Jeff is intriguing, but not someone I feel an easy connection with or I care for. Like him, the novel is engaging at an intellectual level but not so much at an emotional one, at least for me.
This is a novel where action is not the prime component. It is beautifully written and you’ll read some passages many times, as they seem to demand analysis and ongoing exploration. I’m not sure I can say what it is about? Life and death? The future? The meaninglessness of existence? Family relationships? I don’t feel it’s DeLillo’s most accessible story, and definitely, I would not recommend it to somebody who is looking for an easy read and a good story. But if you’re interested in a challenging read and in exploring big themes and personal meanings, this might be the book for you.
Thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the authors (so sorry about Umberto Eco’s death) for the books, thanks to you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!