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Baudolino – Umberto Eco

17 Mar

Baudolino-paperback-coverIt is 1204, and Constantinople is being sacked and burned by the knights of the fourth Crusade. Amid the carnage and confusion Baudolino saves a Byzantine historian and high court official from certain death at the hands of the crusading warriors, and proceeds to tell his own fantastical story.

That isn’t much of a blurb I’ll grant you but this is Umberto Eco’s work and he always writes with a quality lacking in many other authors so it really doesn’t need much in the way of encouragement to pick up.  Nevertheless without giving too much more of the story away I shall endeavour to encourage you to read it anyway.

The book starts with our titular protagonist Baudolino learning to write and quickly establishes he is a serial liar and that that is the key to the book.  The plot is based on a succession of lies framed in a story told to us by an unreliable narrator, despite or perhaps because of this, the reader is drawn in as fantasy and real life collide in a crazy tale of high adventure which may or may not be entirely accurate.

The exploration of how history is written and from what points of view as well as the idea of choosing what to believe is an interesting one explored throughout the text. The idea of both the real and the fantastical living together in religion is one point Eco makes time and again, he grounds this in the ideas of the 12th century, both of faith (and the arguments between various sects) and science.  Like Eco’s earlier work The Name of the Rose, the ideas of the day are thoroughly explored and extremely well researched and really help to give the book an extra immersive quality.  There is plenty here the reader will want to delve into and explore, be it the history or the satire aimed at many authors amongst them Sir John Mandeville, Voltaire and Jonathan Swift as well as the authentic style of the time in regards to listing people and creatures in detail just like the literature then was prone to do.

A lot is crammed into this book there is an ingenious locked room mystery, The Crusades, Prester John and many other fascinating things with which I would do you a disservice to mention here and ruin the discovery for you.  All this makes for a compelling read crammed full of magical ideas and real history but rather than an endless procession of ideas, it is woven into a story that may begin a little slowly but once it gets going can at times become a whirlwind of adventure and enjoyable prose.

The lies that Baudolino tells affect lives and the swirl of history, richly investing in myths, legends and mysticism aplenty.  It’s an absolute pleasure to watch him and his friends get sucked into their own lies, believing their own hype and questioning what is actually real.  The plot can feel a bit aimless at times but just go with those bits and savour the language and the twists in the incredible journey, its one big romance from start to finish.  I didn’t really care about Baudolino as a character, however the adventures he goes on were fun to be a part of and that is where the story is best.

Despite the liberties with truth there is something wonderful about being sucked along into his escapades (or imagination), even the mythological creatures fit in well with the richness of the writing, which is a complex weaving of deceit that is a pleasure to be caught up in.  Always clever, frequently enchanting, always fantastical and absurd and more importantly a great deal of fun that stimulates the literary palate and encourages further reading around its subjects for the sheer joy of learning.

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47 Comments

Posted by on 17/03/2016 in Fiction

 

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47 responses to “Baudolino – Umberto Eco

  1. colemining

    17/03/2016 at 20:34

    Oh, how we will miss Eco. And this is one of my faves. Great review, Steve.

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    • Ste J

      17/03/2016 at 20:39

      Thank you! It is a shame he was so talented and knowledgeable, I have loved all his novels although I haven’t gotten around to reading The Prague Cemetery or Numero Zero yet but I like that I still have new stories by him to discover as well as plenty of non fiction as well. I really was loathe to talk to much about the plot in this one, I mean how do I pick my favourite bits from the many that this contains!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Jessica @ Like Bears to Honey

    17/03/2016 at 20:40

    I’ve actually never read anything by Eco before, but have had The Name of the Rose on my bookshelf staring at me for the last 6 years… I’ve been meaning to get around to it for such a long time. Which would you say is the best book to start with? I also want to read his book of essays, On Literature. Thank you for sharing this friendly nudge to push Eco to the top of my list!

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    • Ste J

      17/03/2016 at 20:49

      On Literature is very enjoyable and varied, I learnt a lot from it. The is Not the End of the Book is a good dialogue that is quick to read and interesting. As or his fiction I tend to change my mind every other day about which novel of his I like best from Baudolino, The Name of the Rose, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana and Foucault’s Pendulum.

      As you have The Name of the Rose you may as well start with that one, it is a good read, try and avoid too many reviews though in case it gives away whodunit. It has a lot about the differences in various sects of the church and some neat metaphysical stuff that is reminiscent of Borges who himself was a good writer to. Please let me know what you think when you get around to tackling his words.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Jessica @ Like Bears to Honey

        17/03/2016 at 20:55

        I knew I could count on you to tell me where to start! I have managed to avoid any sort of spoilers for The Name of the Rose thus far, but I’ll continue to avoid reading reviews of it – thanks for the heads up! I feel like I have a list a mile long, but I am definitely planning on getting to it this year (haha!) I’ll definitely keep you posted.

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        • Ste J

          17/03/2016 at 21:07

          I try to be a public service for readers, it drives me to read more and then use myself as a human shield to protect you from the rubbish ones. The sad thing is there are so many amazing books and then there are those hidden gems that pop up in bookshops and then new books come out and the TBR pile never goes down. It really is a wonderful thing to have so much choice though.

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  3. Resa

    17/03/2016 at 21:12

    I’ve always loved history. Now, after reading this review of what sounds like an excellent book, I wonder about truth in history? Are all the facts I’ve acquired barely lists of people & creatures? lol
    Anyway, the whole getting sucked into the lie concept is very near to many, myself included.

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    • Ste J

      17/03/2016 at 21:17

      History is just a bunch of points of view, Eco subverts it with a fantastical explanation which is really clever, like he did in Foucault’s Pendulum as well he wrote the most mental conspiracy theory I have ever come across. It is great to have fun with history but the truth of it seems to change as we learn more which is engaging to say the least.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Alastair Savage

        18/03/2016 at 07:43

        The key thing is to make the distinction between history – what happened – and historiography – what people write about what happened. Eco is a master at looking at truth, lies, fact and illusion as you say in your great review.
        Baudolino is a lot of fun. I was lucky enough to go to Istanbul a few years ago and I was thinking about this book a lot when I was there. How did Christians manage to trash a city that was supposedly one of their own (at the time)?
        As for Eco’s other books, although you don’t mention The Island of the Day Before, I think it’s worth a look. It’s a beautiful novel and one that is much underrated. Maybe I’ll re-read it and do a blog on it because it is definitely worth a read.
        Having said that, nothing can compare with all-immersive joy of The Name of the Rose best read next to a fire at home while the cruel winter rages outside…

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        • Ste J

          19/03/2016 at 12:15

          The Island of the Day Before was my first Eco book and I found it tough to get into and would hate for people to be put off, which is why I haven’t mentioned it in the comments, it is a fine book though. TNotR was a great book as well, I loved the library, very Borgesian!

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      • Resa

        18/03/2016 at 16:46

        What a great attitude you have about history despite its foibles!

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        • Ste J

          19/03/2016 at 11:44

          I love piecing it all together and learning as much as I can, then sharing it of course.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  4. Purpleanais

    17/03/2016 at 22:02

    I loved this and you’ve done a great review of it 🙂

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    • Ste J

      18/03/2016 at 07:53

      Thank you, it has been too long since I reviewed an Eco book and today this was my favourite, tomorrow will most likely be one of his others such is my fickle mind. There was so much more I wanted to write but to spoil the voyage of discovery would have been unfair.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Purpleanais

        19/03/2016 at 14:07

        Haaaa, yes, this is why I don’t write book reviews because I would just spoil everything! I cannot review a book without going deep into plot analysis, hidden messages, etc…I’m useless! 😂

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        • Ste J

          26/03/2016 at 16:15

          Perhaps book reviews for the initiated, that way I get to feel like I am in an exclusive club of people in the know. I for one would love to read your thoughts on books.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  5. Jill Weatherholt

    17/03/2016 at 22:42

    I agree, the blurb wasn’t much, Ste J, but your review sure was. Great job!

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    • Ste J

      18/03/2016 at 07:51

      Thank you, I did try and find alternative blurbs but they pretty much gave half of the plot away and I would rather to little is revealed than way too much, then I can chat about the book in mysterious terms, like I’m doing a metaphorical dance of the seven veils if you can cope with such an image.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. clarepooley33

    18/03/2016 at 01:31

    My husband started this one and got fed up with it and then gave the book away instead of giving it to me! I loved The Name of the Rose but haven’t read any of his other books. It is interesting that history is forever changing depending on who does the telling and from what perspective we look at past events.

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    • Ste J

      18/03/2016 at 08:02

      It does take a little time to get going so I can understand your man’s frustration somewhat (although the giving away is another matter!) but when it does it really is so much fun. This is a good place to get reacquainted with his fiction, it’s full of zest and throws in so many myths and legends that there is always something new or seen in a new light or just downright ridiculous to discover. The interpretation of history is always going to be subjective due to its writers ideas on the evidence and Baudolino’s effort should be required reading on that point and so many others.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  7. Liz Dexter

    18/03/2016 at 14:42

    I’ve always been a bit afraid of his books, to tell you the truth …

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2016 at 11:46

      There really is no need, he’s a great writer and always gives a great reading experience.

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  8. Bumba

    18/03/2016 at 18:40

    Another fine review!

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2016 at 12:00

      Thank you, I do my best.

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  9. Jilanne Hoffmann

    18/03/2016 at 19:42

    Ever since Eco’s death, I’ve been meaning to pick up one of his books. Perhaps it should be this one.

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2016 at 11:49

      Yes, do it! All of his books are fascinating but this one really plays with history and myth in a fun way.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Liz

    18/03/2016 at 20:54

    Oh dear, another one to add to the list! Thanks (I think) for a great review.

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2016 at 11:59

      Haha, sorry I will try to make good books less attractive, honest!

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Liz

        19/03/2016 at 13:41

        Much obliged! 😀

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  11. Lyn

    18/03/2016 at 23:11

    ~sighs in resignation as she adds another book to her list~ 😉

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2016 at 11:37

      Grins with glee at the thought of you experiencing it for the first time.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  12. shadowoperator

    21/03/2016 at 12:36

    I haven’t read the book you describe, or “The Name of the Rose” (though I saw the movie “The Name of the Rose,” in which I believe Sean Connery starred). But I remember being totally lost and having to force my way through “Foucault’s Pendulum.” It was a very scholarly book and much more learned and ponderous than I was prepared for. The book you are describing now would seem to have some affinities with “The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen.” He was another great adventuring liar!

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    • Ste J

      26/03/2016 at 16:10

      How could I have missed that connection (and link to the review as well!), yes it is like that but without some of the more mental passages. From the blurb I expected Foucault’s Pendulum to start with some intrigue, it did have rather a long build up but the bits in South America were fascinating and it was a veritable who’s who of European history and conspiracy theory, once it got to that bit I didn’t get out of bed until it was done. I haven’t seen the film of the book, I find it increasingly hard to do so unless it isn’t my kind of book and then at least that”s one I can leave off the wishlist.

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  13. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    22/03/2016 at 14:43

    I’m rapidly getting to the point that my reading list is so long that I will have to leave it in my will to someone to take up where I left off 😀

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    • Ste J

      26/03/2016 at 15:58

      That is a good idea, a literary odyssey passed down the ages! I promise to do my best to dissuade you from everything else I read, ha, as if!

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      • Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

        26/03/2016 at 19:15

        I thought it was downright inspired of me to think of it…I’d leave it to my son but he’s probably read most of what’s on it and then some. So I’ll just keep reading along until I’m unable to read any longer 😀

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  14. Seyi sandra

    24/03/2016 at 23:43

    I wonder if you have the exact numbers of books you’ve read, they must be running into thousands. Awesome review as usual old friend!

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    • Ste J

      26/03/2016 at 16:05

      I have a clear out every so often and there are hundreds I have yet to review but I will get to them. I am a hoarder but I manage to part with them every so often to make way for new review fodder. My latest interest is obscurer stuff so hopefully I will be find new gems for you.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  15. macjam47

    24/03/2016 at 23:58

    The “ingenious locked room mystery” sounds intriguing. I will add it to my already tumbling TBR. Someday you will read about a little old lady who got buried beneath her TBR.

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    • Ste J

      26/03/2016 at 16:06

      As long as you get a share of the royalties, that will be one book I will love to review and I will hope it has a happy ending, especially as I contributed to your predicament hehe.

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      • macjam47

        26/03/2016 at 17:43

        Haha! I’ll hold you to that review! You always make me smile, my friend.

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  16. anna amundsen

    01/04/2016 at 12:31

    Even though I love Eco, this was one of the books I couldn’t finish. I tried twice and got through half of it in my second attempt but, it was too much, and too obvious so my interest completely faded out.

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    • Ste J

      01/04/2016 at 16:30

      That is a shame, I felt like that with The Island of the Day Before but persevered after a big struggle.

      Like

       

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