This week’s musing asks:
What is the weirdest/strangest/craziest book you’ve read?
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco. The book is as mysterious as what the title implies. A 60-ish Milanese bookseller suddenly loses his memory–after he regains consciousness from a stroke. Yambo, however, is shocked to find that he can remember every book he has ever read, and every line of poetry and a wealth of literary quotations. Fragments of thoughts piece together a narrative that is continuously drony. These thoughts are deprived of feelings and meanings that are constituent to his personal history. The novel illustrates the power of memory–how it imbues meaning in human being, the meaning that provides the default of one’s humanity, the standard, the cornerstone to which one measures growth and change. Memory and consciousness lay down the time frame for life’s progression. Since the man contrives to recover his past, events of this novel revolve around a continuous paradox that accentuates the power of memory and consciousness and demonstrates what makes a human being human. Yambo’s journey down the memory lane is more than visiting the family house where he lived as a boy and contriving to trigger memory through the associative power of objects. Seeking to reconstruct the past, he would have to remember what the original state of things had been, and this state was precisely what he desperately needs to spur his memory. As he exhumes boxes of old newspapers, comics, records and photo albums, he relives the story (his public story) of his generation (Mussolini, Catholic education of guilt, Fred Astaire, War), he inevitably embarks on an investigation of why he had done what he had done after he left the house.
To make a long story short, while the novel is rich and dense in beautiful language, it is also maddeningly impenetrable on a certain level. It is a thinly veiled literary autobiography couched as an amnesiac’s mystery, but what could have been a fascinating tale of memory and its construction is undercut by a ceaseless nostalgia for cultural artifacts that only Eco himself could fully appreciate. I felt I wasted a lot of time perusing it from beginning to end. It is the weirdest, strangest, craziest, and most schizophrenic book I’ve ever read.