I was not particularly looking forward to reading this book. I was expecting it to be like The Name of the Rose which was hard work and that wasn’t exactly what I felt like reading while away.
But I was consistently surprised by how not boring Foucault’s Pendulum is. It’s the story of Casaubon, a student writing a thesis on the Templars with an interest in the spiritual, mystical and occult. He falls into working at a vanity publisher whose owner has decided to start publishing in the area. After reading one to many manuscripts on occult conspiracy theories he and two other editors (Belbo and Diotalevi) decide they can do better and start creating The Plan, a conspiracy theory to end all conspiracy theories, linking anything and everything in a huge esoteric plot.
Just like The Name of the Rose there’s a lot of information, hostory and stories that force their way from the background to the foreground of the story. Maybe I knew better what to expect going in but this time I found it not only much easier to follow but also much more interesting. Could also be because it’s about secret societies and plots to rule the world. As the information kept piling on I kept expecting it to get worse and for me to lose track but it wasn’t too tricky.
It’s also interspersed with the characters’ experiences of weird semi-religious rites and ceremonies and Belbo’s reminiscences about his childhood during World War II. The novel alternates between the characters’ tongue in cheek construction of The Plan and a creeping sense of dread that comes through in the dissappearances, coincidences and real danger that the characters find themselves in.
On a travelling note, this book gives me very little to work with. Set mainly in Milan it bounces around the countryside a bit, but is mostly place-less and generally European, looking at continental theories that make the whole of Europe seem to be one big occult playground. Apart from some episodes in Belbo’s countryside childhood it could be pretty much set anyway. Also there’s some evocative stuff in Brazil but I don’t happen to be in Brazil. But I really liked Florence and especially all the smaller cities around it. Bologna was my favourite, a lovely mix fancy archeological sites, impressive churches and windy streets of shops and produce. Siena was the winner for amazing churches, one that was all stripy and starry with a quirky charm that made me think of Hogwarts and another looked like it had grown out of the city walls. Actually I guess all the walled cities are kind of Templar-plot-esque…
Anyway I definitely enjoyed Foucault’s Pendulum AND I feel smarter for reading it. I wouldn’t call it gripping but it had lots of interesting history, real as well as made up, and every time it got to be too much, Lia (Casaubon’s partner) would step in with some beautiful, down to earth insight into our search for meaning and the wacky roads it takes.