One of the writers I'm discussing in my thesis is Umberto Eco. As well as being a novelist, Eco is an important name in semiotics - the science or study of sign systems. He has been writing on semiotics and a whole host of other subjects - mass media, popular culture, the Middle Ages, James Bond, philosophy - for over forty years. Here's a quick guide to his five novels.
Eco's first novel is probably his best known. Set over the course of seven days in an unnamed abbey in medieval Italy, The Name of the Rose tells the story of Adso of Melk and his master William of Baskerville, who investigate a series of murders that take place over the course of their seven day stay. The Name of the Rose is not only a detective novel: it is at once a salutation of the Middle Ages, a treatise on reading, a celebration of writing, a love letter to books, a beginner’s guide to semiotic theory, homage to Jorge Luis Borges, a challenge to those of us who cannot understand Latin and an exploration of heresy.
Foucault's Pendulum did the Da Vinci Code over a decade before Dan Brown. Three editors at an Italian publishing house, fed up with the crazy manuscripts the receive, create a story of their own that encompasses as many conspiracy theories that they can find. The more time they spend focusing on what they call the Plan, the more they are taken up with it; as are a sinister group called TRES; a group the three editors think they themselves have invented.
Eco's third novel recreates the Baroque era in painstaking detail. Part-Don Quixote and part-Robinson Crusoe, The Island of the Day Before tells the story of Italian nobleman Roberto della Griva, stranded aboard a deserted ship (that's right: a ship, not an island) in 1643.
Eco goes back to the Middle Ages with his fourth novel, Baudolino. The eponymous hero retells his life story to the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates against the backdrop of the siege of Constantinople in 1204. Baudolino, a self-confessed liar, claims to have invented the letter of Prester John, the Holy Grail and a whole host of other religious and historical forgeries.
In Eco's most recent novel, an antiquarian bookseller, Yambo, loses his memory, except that he can remember every book he has read. From there, Yambo has to reconstruct his memory through the stories and comic books he read as a child.