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The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by…

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (original 2004; edition 2006)

by Umberto Eco, Geoffrey Brock (Translator)

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3,875651,329 (3.33)95
Title:The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
Authors:Umberto Eco
Other authors:Geoffrey Brock (Translator)
Info:Mariner Books (2006), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 480 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:novel, fiction, Italian, books

Work details

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco (2004)

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    Alixtii: Both books having writers getting meta about the nature of writing and reading as a protagonist goes through a process of reading very (and I mean very) many books. Both are written with wit and insight, although Eco's book is better.

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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
I had a real love-hate relationship with this book. I feel like it took me forever to finish it. When I first started reading, I thought, "Oh! This is a literary lover's delight!" because it had all these interesting, references--both familiar and foreign. As I got more into it, I started feeling like I was losing the story and it got a little hazy. That's when I started turning against the book. But, just as I was about ready to give up (Ok, so I wasn't actually going to stop reading when I was already over half way through, but it adds to the effect, you know?), I realized that the author wanted me to journey through the fog with Yambo. He does a bang-up job of putting you in a fog, with all the references to literature, pop culture, Italian history, and Mussolini, but in the end, I just loved the story, the way the book was written, and the emotional journey I went through. ( )
1 vote amyolivia | Oct 25, 2013 |
Umberto Eco has hits and misses, but this book is a hit. The narrator provides the reader with a first-hand look at life in Italy before, during, and after World War II, something not covered fully in many fiction works. The book is a history lesson, a love story, and a mystery novel all in one. Throughly entertaining and educational. ( )
  JLSmither | Aug 22, 2013 |
60-year-old Yambo, an antiquarian book dealer, wakes up in a hospital with amnesia. He remembers everything he's ever read, everyday things like how to shave, and a certain amount of history, but all his personal life experiences are gone. He doesn't know who anyone is, or how anything tastes or feels, or any other memory with an emotional component. The first portion is largely a string of literary references that build on each other through word association. Eventually he returns to his childhood home to read old schoolbooks and comics in order to rediscover his own identity. His memory returns very gradually, so you have to be in it for the journey, not anticipating some Big Change at any point. To be honest, I was bored for a lot of this book. I didn't understand a lot of the references, especially later when most of them were to WWII-era Italian propaganda. The amnesia concept was fresh - rediscovering tastes and smells, for example - and the actual memories turned out to be quite interesting, but for the most part I felt like I was slogging through a bunch of navel-gazing for which I had no context. I also never figured out what caused him to get the amnesia to begin with, but that may have been revealed at a time when I'd glazed over. I am quite certain many people would quite enjoy this book, but I appear to not be one of them. ( )
  melydia | Aug 14, 2013 |
I read parts of this (I couldn't read the middle hundred pages) as part of a project to read novels with images. Eco calls this "An Illustrated Novel," partly alluding to the comic books that he remembers from his childhood. I found the book intolerable.

1: The narrator's knowledgeable voice

Well-read and scholarly authors, like Canetti or Richard Powers, tend to be praised by people who think they have endless erudition. I think that's a mistaken way to evaluate an author, because no author I know has that really "peregrine" erudition. Eco is limited, and so was Canetti. ("Peregrine" is a word Leopardi used to describe his own learning, and it fits; in my book, only people like Arnaldo Momigliano are genuinely bewilderingly erudite. Everyone else is obviously mortal.)

The problem here, aside from readers' reactions, is that Eco himself hows off continuously, unconsciously, happily, as if he wasn't showing off at all. Here's a typical passage. The main character has woken in a hospital, and he can't remember his name.

"And yet I did have it on the tip of my tongue. After a moment I offered the most obvious reply.
"My name is Arthur Gordon Pym."
"That isn't your name."
Of course, Pym was someone else.

[Note how coy this is: the name is part of the title of Edgar Allen Poe's only novel. Eco doesn't quite tell us, but alludes to the fact that the name does mean something. He's already done this on the very first page of his book, alluding to Bruges-la-Morte, the most important predecessor of his own book, but not quite telling readers what he's doing. It's a wink and a nod for people in the know.]

"Call me... Ishmael?"
"Your name is not Ishmael. Try harder."

[This is supposed to be comedy, because readers are expected to get this allusion.]

"A word. Like running into a wall. Saying Euclid or Ishmael was easy... I tried to explain. "It doesn't feel like something solid, it's like walking through a fog."
"What's the fog like?" he asked.
"The fog on the bristling hills climbs drizzling up the sky, and down below the mistral howls and whitens the sea... What's the fog like?"

[Again, coy: he's quoting, but this time it isn't at all clear what the source is. It's a puzzle, like on "Mastermind" or NPR.]

"You put me at a disadvantage... I'm only a doctor. And besides, this is April, I can't show you any fog. Today's the twenty-fifth of April."
"April is the cruelest month."

[Another in-joke, which readers will be expected to get. Eco makes sure we know now everyone gets jokes like this:]

"I'm not very well-read, but I think that's a quotation." (pp. 6-7)

The book is like this throughout. Eco apparently doesn't think he's boasting, but he is. He also lectures: there are long pages with medical diagnoses, bibliographic citations, historical references, etc. What's intolerable here is that Eco only half-realizes he's showing off. He is also exuberant about all kinds of cultural detritus, and that's great -- it's the semiotician of his early work. I liked pp. 108-110, where he tells us about obscure torture techniques, and then gives us lists of flags, musical instruments, weaponry, heraldry... he has no idea when to stop, which is great. But often what he does is either unconscious boasting, presented as the products of a full imagination, or else professorial lecturing, presented as an interest in the variegated facts of the world.

The impetus to appear scholarly overflows the narration, because the book ends with a long list of sources for the illustrations. This list wasn't necessary: it goes beyond what copyright restrictions would require, and so it becomes a sort of scholarly apparatus, as if it was written by the narrator. It's also, in the end, more showing off.

All this is just one reason I found the book unreadable. The other reason has to do with the images.

2. The images

The use of images is ham-fisted, for at least four reasons:

(A) The use of color.
Eco is lucky -- and nearly unique -- in that his previous sales enabled him to produce this book in full color. It's one of just a few novels with color illustrations, and the fact that they are of good quality means that he can conjure objects of nostalgia differently than, say, Sebald. When Eco's character finds a cocoa tin in an attic, he can show it in full color and detail, and bring it into the present in a way that an author like Sebald couldn't (I don't mean he would have always wanted to, but the option wasn't available). But Eco makes very little use of this; most every object in this book is scanned, at apparently high resolution, and simply presented to us.

(B) Reproducing objects without backgrounds.
There are a few photos of three-dimensional objects in the book, but they are cropped white all around, as in catalogues. The reason for that decision isn't acknowledged in the book; it makes them look like objects in catalogues.

(C) The effect of cropping.
All the other hundreds of illustrations are cropped tightly to the edges of the image or cover, or else they're details. Some are arranged in rows and columns (pp. 138, 140), making them look like illustrations in a reference book. These layout and design choices are again odd, and unremarked by the narrator. Why allude to scholarly or reference works? After all, the narrator is rummaging through boxes and piles of papers in an attic -- he isn't supposed to be preparing a book for publication. In fact, Eco was preparing a book for publication, and that fact intrudes on the fiction. (One image is reproduced with its tattered margins, the way Anne Carson does; that makes it seem precious, but that isn't remarked on either.)

(D) Image manipulation.
The final episode of the book is an hallucination: the narrator imagines himself in a drama with comic book characters. On pp. 422-45, full-page illustrations from comics are matched with facing pages of text. It's the only time in the book where the text isn't full page, because Eco wants to match it to the pictures. From the list of illustrations it's apparent that Eco put these together himself from a number of different comics. They are credited as "montages by the author." But as montages, they're ham-fisted: characters are just pasted together, without even the adjustments that an artist like Erro makes when he does collages of comics. Many of the images have vignetting -- Eco used a blur function in Photoshop or some other application, and it needs to be said -- in the 21st century, when everyone has some photo-editing skills, and in the context of a novel that is all about images -- that he used the blur function very badly. He could have capitalized on this, for example by saying his narrator's mind was blurred in a simple fashion, but he apparently does not think his photo manipulation requires comment. But it does: these images are as awkwardly done as William Gass's graphics in his novel "The Tunnel."

I once had a chance to ask Gass about those illustrations. Why, I wanted to know, do the images all look like mid-1980s computer graphics, with thick outlines and primary colors? Because, he said, the narrator inhabits that world. I think that would have been a good answer if the narrator of "The Tunnel" had a computer, with a graphics program, and was producing images as best he could. But there is no such theme in the book. Instead the illustrations in "The Tunnel" appear the way Eco's illustrations do in "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna": as the products of rudimentary digital skills, which appear to their makers as adequate, but which cannot appear that way to anyone who pays as much attention to images as the authors themselves ask readers to do. ( )
  JimElkins | Aug 1, 2013 |
As is always the case with Umberto Eco's books, this novel is intriguing and challenging, and requires considerable effort from the reader, though it does offer extensive rewards in return for that commitment.

Essentially it recounts the experiences of Yambo, a seller of antiquarian books, who, as the novel opens, has suffered a serious stroke and,as a consequence, has lost his autobiographical memory. However, while he can remember nothing of his early life, he does remember, in considerable (almost exhaustive0 detail every book that he has ever read.

Having been released from hospital he and his family attempt to find something with which to trigger the return of his memory. To that end his wife sends him of to his childhood home (still owned by the family and used as a summer retreat). While there he delves through a veritable treasure trove of artefacts stored in the capacious attics. He gradually starts to reconstruct a framework for his childhood and adolescence, set against the inner turnoil suffered by italy as the experiment with fascism under Mussolini proved to have been a terrible mistake. And then he finds something quite exceptional at the bottom of a hitherto overlooked casket ... and triggers a further "episode".

The book is beautifully illustrated with pictures of comics, records and journals from the 1930s and 1940s, and Eco uses these as a hook on which to hang a beguiling social and political history of Italy during the build up to, and immediate aftermath of, the Second World War.

Unfortunately I felt that it went on for rather too long, and I gradually lost any empathy for Yambo and his plight. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jun 5, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Umberto Ecoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brock, GeoffreyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There is a wiki annotation page for this novel at: http://queenloana.wikispaces.com/
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156030438, Paperback)

The premise of Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, may strike some readers as laughably unpromising, and others as breathtakingly rich. A sixty-ish Milanese antiquarian bookseller nicknamed Yambo suffers a stroke and loses his memory of everything but the words he has read: poems, scenes from novels, miscellaneous quotations. His wife Paola fills in the bare essentials of his family history, but in order to trigger original memories, Yambo retreats alone to his ancestral home at Solara, a large country house with an improbably intact collection of family papers, books, gramophone records, and photographs. The house is a museum of Yambo's childhood, conventiently empty of people, except of course for one old family servant with a long memory--an apt metaphor for the mind. Yambo submerges himself in these artifacts, rereading almost everything he read as a school boy, blazing a meandering, sometimes misguided, often enchanting trail of words. Flares of recognition do come, like "mysterious flames," but these only signal that Yambo remembers something; they do not return that memory to him. It is like being handed a wrapped package, the contents of which he can only guess.

Within the limitations of Yambo's handicap and quest, Eco creates wondrous variety, wringing surprise and delight from such shamelessly hackneyed plot twists as the discovery of a hidden room. Illustrated with the cartoons, sheet music covers, and book jackets that Yambo uncovers in his search, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana can be read as a love letter to literature, a layered excavation of an Italian boyhood of the 1940s, and a sly meditation on human consciousness. Both playful and reverent, it stands with The Name of the Rose and The Island of the Day Before as among Eco's most successful novels. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:01 -0400)

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Having suffered a complete loss of memory regarding every aspect of his own identity, rare book dealer Yambo withdraws to a family home nested between Milan and Turin, where he sorts through boxes of old records and experiences memories in the form of a graphic novel.… (more)

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