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The Prague Cemetery
Topic Started: Apr 17 2011, 10:06 PM (7,615 Views)
Yambo
Casual reader
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nnyhav
Dec 20 2011, 07:16 PM
I'd recommend Six Walks (mentioned above, as pertinent to TPC), The Open Work and The Role of the Reader
I read Six Walks too, I forgot about that one. Also, you can hear the lectures that make up Confessions of a Young Novelist on YouTube here:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Dionnis1?feature=g-all-u

But On Literature covers this material pretty thoroughly, these other books just repackage the same ideas, sometimes with different examples.
Edited by Yambo, Dec 20 2011, 09:40 PM.
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Splackavellie
Acolyte
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Yambo
Dec 20 2011, 06:59 PM
nnyhav
Dec 20 2011, 12:42 AM
(also curious what you [et al] think of the non-novels; there's a dis-used non-fiction thread hereabouts ...)
On Literature is terrific. The short pieces in Misreadings and How to Travel with a Salmon are fun, certainly worth reading. Travels in Hyperreality, check. I tried Kant and the Platypus but didn’t get far into it. Not for me. I did better with The Search for the Perfect Language, but wouldn’t recommend it generally. That about covers it, though I know he has other non-fiction that I haven’t read.
Really? I loved Kant and the Platypus.

For the general reader, I think the best bets are "Belief or Nonbelief" with Carlo Maria Martini and the recently released "This is not the end of the book" with Jean-Claude Carriere. Both are highly enjoyable, yet very accessible. Highly recommended!
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nnyhav
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itinerant kibitzer
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A dissenting view on TPC (but then she hasn't liked anything since TNOTR)
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Yambo
Casual reader
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nnyhav
Dec 22 2011, 12:17 AM
A dissenting view on TPC (but then she hasn't liked anything since TNOTR)
"Not only is the book stuffed with undigested historical, theological, and philosophical material that impedes any suspense, its protagonist is uninflectedly despicable. Moreover, this character is not just central to the plot, he is the voice of the novel; there is no voice, no character of any sort, to challenge him."

I gather she skipped the parts narrated by the Abbé, and by the unnamed neutral editor. They're in different typefaces, maybe she thought she was supposed to skip ahead when that happened.

"How else to explain the praise heaped on Foucault’s Pendulum, even as many of the same critics lambasted its far more readable, middlebrow incarnation in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code;"

I guess she missed Salman Rushdie's review of FP. And if she prefers Brown to Eco, well, she's just not the critic for anyone who reads this forum.
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nnyhav
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Yambo
Dec 22 2011, 08:57 PM
she's just not the critic for anyone who reads this forum.
I think that's clear enough (esp since this forum is named after his Six Walks).

I also think that it's interesting to see how what even fans admit as weaknesses (eg characterization) gets blown way out of proportion.

But I just loved the about the author bit at the end:
Quote:
 
Paula Marantz Cohen is Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University and host of The Drexel InterView, a talk show broadcast on more than 300 public television stations across the country. She is author of four nonfiction books and four bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale Review, The American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest book is What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Jack the Ripper and Henry James.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Homepage photograph by remuz [Jack The Ripper]
Easy enough to dismiss, all that. Not that I would ... hehhehheh

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wertham
Newbie
If anyone would be kind enough to explain the ending of The Prague Cemetery, I certainly would appreciate it.
(This has been bugging me for a month now. I know I've missed something. But what?)

I'm re-reading (the essential) Name of the Rose now. Keeps getting better.
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Yambo
Casual reader
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wertham
Dec 29 2011, 11:34 AM
If anyone would be kind enough to explain the ending of The Prague Cemetery, I certainly would appreciate it.
Naturally there’s some ambiguity to it, but I think the “best” explanation is that Gaviali booby trapped the bomb, or gave Simonini the wrong instructions, resulting in Simonini blowing himself up. Payback. Now, why December 20, 1898? Some quick googling turns up the finalizing of the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish American War…not particularly relevant. And the Curie’s discovering Radium…maybe something there. There were bomb attacks in Paris around that time, but I don’t see a specific one recorded on that date, or on the next day. If there was, and the bomber was killed then the tie in would be obvious. As I noted in my Amazon review, this book is more constrained by facts than any of Eco's earlier one's.

OTOH, maybe Simonini just decided to stop keeping a diary! He'd weaned himself off it pretty well by then.
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wertham
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Yambo
Dec 29 2011, 01:36 PM
wertham
Dec 29 2011, 11:34 AM
If anyone would be kind enough to explain the ending of The Prague Cemetery, I certainly would appreciate it.
Naturally there’s some ambiguity to it, but I think the “best” explanation is that Gaviali booby trapped the bomb, or gave Simonini the wrong instructions, resulting in Simonini blowing himself up. Payback. Now, why December 20, 1898? Some quick googling turns up the finalizing of the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish American War…not particularly relevant. And the Curie’s discovering Radium…maybe something there. There were bomb attacks in Paris around that time, but I don’t see a specific one recorded on that date, or on the next day. If there was, and the bomber was killed then the tie in would be obvious. As I noted in my Amazon review, this book is more constrained by facts than any of Eco's earlier one's.

OTOH, maybe Simonini just decided to stop keeping a diary! He'd weaned himself off it pretty well by then.



Thanks! I also checked the history of Paris around that date and couldn't find anything about explosions or "terrorist/anarchist" attacks.

Eco really does leave the resolution of all this up in the air... and when the reader is following the first person account of such a despicable character,
you really do want to see him - get his - in the end. Too bad he didn't conclude by slipping back into the voice of the man who found the diary.

Having read the final few chapters several times, I found the reference to the cocaine more significant, as Simonini had never tried it before.
Plus the fact that he was drinking on top of that... although the (vengeful) bomb expert wouldn't have been able to anticipate this;

but he did stress that the steps had to be followed precisely, and it seems probable that Simonini would mess the whole thing up
and blow himself to kingdom come. But if this was so, surely Eco would've mentioned it in the epilogue?
Edited by wertham, Dec 29 2011, 02:57 PM.
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Yambo
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wertham
Dec 29 2011, 02:54 PM
it seems probable that Simonini would mess the whole thing up
and blow himself to kingdom come. But if this was so, surely Eco would've mentioned it in the epilogue?
And Pynchon could have divulged whether the Trystero is for real or not. He could at least have told us what happened within the next couple hours, after the start of the auction…

I like the ending of The Prague Cemetery well enough. I especially liked it the first time through, and that's the reading that usually counts most. We don't know what happens to Casaubon after the last page of Foucault's Pendulum, and Roberto's fate isn't too clear (Island of the Day Before). Does Baudolino make it back to the Deacon's land and reunite with Hypatia? More likely he finds another ear to bend, someone more credulous than Niketas. It's pretty clear that Yambo is dying, or at least is having another stroke at the end of Queen Loana. Only The Name of the Rose has an unambiguous ending, in spite of what the narrator himself says.
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Bleak
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Yambo
Dec 19 2011, 11:57 PM
I finally got around to writing an Amazon review for The Prague Cemetery. I'm thinking of adding to it, though.

Naturally, Five Stars

I have read each of Eco's prior novels repeatedly, and am quite fanatical about them. This latest one certainly ranks among the others, though not at the top, in my estimation. It may, however, be an ideal starting point for someone new to his work. It is his shortest, and I believe it is his "easiest" novel. The subject matter, while grim, has much contemporary relevance, so the reader should be readily drawn in. I read it nonstop as soon as it arrived, and have been through it maybe five times at this point; bear this in mind as I proceed to criticize it.

Various observations: the novel dramatizes the fabrication of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and therefore the storytelling is more constrained by facts than in any of Eco's earlier novels. Also the book is unique in Eco's corpus in that it is told mainly through the eyes of the villain, resulting in less humor than you'll find in any of the earlier books. I suspect that for all his study of this fraud and its perpetrators, Eco simply can't sympathize with and thereby fully inhabit his main character. So he sidesteps the problem through meta-narrative trickery, reusing both the doppelgänger motif from The Island of the Day Before, and the quest for lost memories Macguffin from The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. Readers of Foucault's Pendulum will already know the historical facts behind the Protocols, and the factual material presented there is only fleshed out a little further here, not substantially added to. The gastronomic details were rather odd, they seemed out of place, though the episode with Alexander Dumas making turtle soup was funny enough to redeem these sometimes off-putting digressions. Thematically, The Prague Cemetery is the flip side of Foucault's Pendulum; the earlier novel (Eco's best, IMO) deflates conspiracy theories, while this one might scare you into hiding under your bed.

One last point, the audiobook version is excellent, George Guidall is the perfect reader in this material. However, the book has illustrations, so I recommend that my fellow fanatics get both.
> and the quest for lost memories Macguffin from The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

my problem is that I found this Macguffin so uncompelling and unconvincing (even tho it worked well in Loana). "Ok, now he's remembering this, now he's remembering that." Whatever!

>Eco simply can't sympathize with and thereby fully inhabit his main character.

Eco's model here was, I am sure, Nabokov with Humbert Humbert (see Eco Wiki: Eco and Nabokov). Eco set out to create "the most despicable creature in all of literature" or something. But, like you apparently Yambo, I am unconvinced. Eco explores the themes of hatred but doesn't convincingly explain the psychology of what such a hateful man must be like, except that he is a being of pure selfishness (a glutton, all the talk of food, etc.-- that's why he keeps putting those in there) and that his hatred is somehow related to a lazy conflagration of all "others" (Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Jesuits, etc.).

Like many of the authors I love, I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Eco's later novels, and Prague Cemetery is no different. Almost all the negative reviews have points I agree with, but there's still enough meat in there to keep me reading.
Edited by Bleak, Dec 30 2011, 08:55 AM.
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johnr60
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"(a glutton, all the talk of food, etc.-- that's why he keeps putting those in there)"

Or maybe it's to make you think that's why he's putting those in there.
distraction is useful to a confidence man.
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johnr60
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Nah. Let's face it. What critics call "displaying his erudition" is what we used to call teaching: Eco does it well and constant. He's telling those of us who listen that a dinner recipe is not the same as an historical narrative and he opposes them throughout (as far as I've got anyway).
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Bleak
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johnr60
Dec 30 2011, 11:04 PM
"(a glutton, all the talk of food, etc.-- that's why he keeps putting those in there)"

Or maybe it's to make you think that's why he's putting those in there.
distraction is useful to a confidence man.
well, I'm only halfway through the novel and I'm not that paranoid yet, but I'll see how I feel when I finish it :)

Reading excerpts from Name, Pendulum, and Island, I think two related things that bothers me about Prague Cemetery are:

a) that it seems entirely composed of other books, without any of his own legwork (Eco traveled to Fiji for Island, describes the Musee des Arts et Metiers in Paris in his own, vivid, words, and visited abbeys in Europe for Name).

b) Fine, that's what Eco does, but it doesn't feel like an IMMENSE synthesis of other books the way his first novels do. For instance, Name was composed after a lifetime researching the middle ages. Eco used that knowledge and a horde of books to bring the society of the abbey and the lives and psychology of its inhabitants to life for the reader. In Island, Eco's voluminous reading from the time period made him, and the reader, see the miraculous natural world the way a person from Roberto's time might have seen and described it.

Prague Cemetery, on the other hand, is well-researched, but in ways that don't give much payoff for the reader. When Simonini meets the head of the French secret police, Eco tells us his name is Bouchard, or whatever. And I'm sure he tracked down the one dusty book that gives the actual man's name. (I've googled many such references, and there is almost zero info online). But this piece of information serves no entertaining or illuminating purpose. I'm sure his descriptions of the landing of Garibaldi's troops in Italy are accurate and impeccably researched, but again, he mostly does not use them to create or bring to life compelling characters or situations. Eco tracked down contemporary accounts to add some details and spice to a seedy bar in Paris that Simonini visits, but moves on after a few sentences.

Compare this with his magnificent description of Salvatore in Name of the Rose (chapter 3):

Quote:
 
And he joined penitential sects and groups whose names he could not pronounce properly and whose doctrine he defined in highly unlikely terms. I deduced that he had encountered Patarines and Waldensians, and perhaps Catharists, Arnoldists, and Umiliati, and that, roaming about the world, he had passed from one group to another, gradually assuming as a mission his vagrant state, and doing for the Lord what he had done till then for his belly.


I don't know what the fuck a Patarine or a Waldensian is, but I'm sure Eco does. More importantly, he's used that prodigious research in the service of something literary: the evocation of this hopeless, halfwitted, lost character who had wandered from country to country, sect to sect in the uncharted back pages of medieval history.

This is really my problem with Prague Cemetery. Eco has flung a bunch of books together, but he's not bringing enough of his OWN imagination to the table.
Edited by Bleak, Jan 2 2012, 08:35 AM.
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johnr60
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I'm late in reporting because I committed a month to the Wandering Jew before looking at PC, but I finished yesterday.
I cant disagree with most of what's above. I do wonder about the lack of W. Weaver. The story became flat 3/4 through, but so did FP when it came to similar subjects and reduced itself to lists.
Epilogue (fabula--search essays in modern word) and prologue (distractions) must be important
but I'm not sure where. What is most apparent is the constant repetition of Eco themes. What is the value of the first copy when there is no original?
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Clarissa
Literary lunatic
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Started reading The Prague Cemetery in English but quickly gave up. The Paris setting, a city I know so well, the English was too far from Place Maubert, rue du Maître Albert etc. I have now read it in French and the translation by Schifano is outstanding. Nonetheless, I found it a frustrating read. Went from being enthralled to thoroughly bored and back again. I was impressed by the research but this is what I expect from Eco. I wonder if the illustrations inspired the book or if he looked for illustrations that would correspond to the writing. I must add I found the illustrations the best thing about the book. The illustrations themselves and their incorporation in the text.
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