A quick look around the kitchen, and there's copies of four different Umberto Eco books to hand. Obviously, I need to tidy up more. More important than that, though, I need some more Umberto Eco books closer to hand.
Eco died at the weekend. Philosopher, polymath, cultural commentator, scholar, semiotician, novelist. And an unashamed fan-boy. He never came across as someone superior to the texts he was discussing; whether it was Joyce or James Bond, Proust or Tin-Tin, Eco always gave off the distinct impression that he liked the stories for what they were. There's not many can always say that, as anyone who's waded through much academic writing should be able to tell you.
I came to Eco through his first novel, The Name of the Rose. It's still my favourite single book. Why? Because it's the one that does everything. It's the novelistic equivalent of, say, Scorsese's GoodFellas; it's the summation of pretty much everything possible in a mode of communication at the point in time of the text's creation. It's that good.
When, in time, I came to make my own attempt at a historical novel, The Name of the Rose was one of the models I had in my mind; a race against time with a looming (and perhaps unintentional) apocalypse. It's a book I go back to every couple of years for a summer re-read.
Throughout his fiction, Eco weaved tales of conspiracy theories that took on lives of their own, of signs and symbols that meant different things to different people, of the lives in the margins of books. In Foucault's Pendulum, Eco deconstructed Dan Brown a generation before Brown had the admittedly promising idea of taking Baigent and Leigh's Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and weaponizing it. In Baudolino his characters went off the map, once more tipping the hat to one of his heroes, Borges.
Worthy of note is the contribution of his original translator from the Italian, William Weaver; their collaborations were exacting and nuanced.
I've got his last novel, Number Zero, waiting to be read. I'd dipped into the first few pages not long after Christmas but got distracted by something shiny. I'm now looking forwards to getting involved, one last time, with the great fella.