Monday, 16 November 2015

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco Review


Phewf – how’s this for a convoluted and dreary premise? Umberto Eco’s latest novel is set in Italy, 1992, where a hack writer is hired by a wealthy chancer to write the story of a newspaper/magazine he will establish – except, while he’ll still hire a staff to create editions full of content, he doesn’t intend to actually publish anything - that’ll apparently threaten the concerns of an even wealthier businessman who’ll get him to shut down the publication with a big payday. 

What sort of plot is that? It isn’t. So what’s filling the pages? Random story ideas produced by the staff. Get ready for useless and overlong descriptions of cars and super-posh people with lengthy names/titles that can only be described as unreadable filler, as well as an extensive conspiracy theory about Mussolini being hidden by the Vatican in the years after the end of WW2. 

I’m not sure why it had to be set in 1992 other than Eco (an elderly chap) doesn’t understand modern technology or journalism and so would’ve had to have made an effort to understand how things are done today. He wouldn’t have to in choosing instead to lapse into the less complex paper and pencil traditional approach to journalism that was still the early '90s. 

So the “story” stinks - do the characters save the book? Nope! The cast are an uninteresting and unoriginal bunch. Our protagonist, Colonna, is a blank, a failed writer in his 50s while his girlfriend Maia doesn’t like writing for celebrity mags and one character thinks she’s autistic – an observation that is as irrelevant as everything else in this novel, going nowhere and adding nothing. It’s impossible to care about what happens to these two as they belatedly come up with ideas that’ll never be printed for a temporary job they dislike. 

There’s Simei, the fake magazine’s owner, a cynical businessman whose mercenary attitude is alienating and there’s Braggadocio, the only other character of note, who stumbles across the supposed Mussolini conspiracy, and behaves like your garden variety paranoid nutjob. They’re not really characters but devices: Simei is only there to set up the premise while Braggadocio is there to fill up most of the book expounding on his rambling Mussolini conspiracy. 

Numero Zero’s saving grace is that it’s short so you can barrel through it in no time. But what a tedious, slight novel about nothing! Witless and dull filled with dry, esoteric and unnecessary detail, I’m not sure who the audience for this boring book could possibly be – his publisher perhaps, to fulfil a contractual obligation? This was my first and last Umberto Eco novel – what an overrated writer!

Numero Zero

No comments:

Post a Comment