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The Island of the Day Before (1994)

by Umberto Eco

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,502591,166 (3.31)163
A 17th Century Italian knight recounts his adventures during a siege in the Thirty Years' War and afterwards in naval espionage against the British. In between, he describes the salons of Paris, lessons in fencing and reasons of state, and gives his thoughts on writing love letters and on blasphemy.
  1. 10
    Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel (polutropon)
    polutropon: Sobel gives a less fantastical account than Eco of the quest to accurately determine longitude at sea, though it's surprising some of the proposals that Eco didn't have to concoct for narrative purposes.
  2. 00
    Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: Both are big beefy novels written in the waning of the 20th century, and concerned with the exploratory push of European powers (in early modernity and the Enlightenment, respectively), as well as the relationships between objective and subjective worlds.… (more)
  3. 00
    The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: There's an interesting connection to be found here.
  4. 11
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (hippietrail)
  5. 01
    Ex-Libris by Ross King (P_S_Patrick)
    P_S_Patrick: These books have some common themes, so may be enjoyed by the same people, but where Ex Libris is more of a "biblio-mystery", The Island of The Day Before is more of a general novel. Both books focus to a certain degree on the Age of Discovery, in the 17th Century, and the Longitude problem. They feature the historical conflicts, ships, and sailing, but this is perhaps where the similarities end. The Island of The Day before is better written, but whether you prefer the plot of one or the other will be due to personal preference. If you have an interest in the period, and enjoyed reading one, then I could recommend the other as a potential future read.… (more)
  6. 03
    Nation by Terry Pratchett (tronella)
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» See also 163 mentions

English (41)  Spanish (6)  French (5)  Italian (3)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All languages (59)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
The writing of Umberto Eco is always an acquired taste, but The Island of the Day Before is one that would make even experienced readers blanch. The concept is sublime: in the 1600s, a shipwrecked man is marooned on a small island which straddles the international date line. His salvation, he believes, is on another island on the horizon, on the other side of the date line: the titular 'island of the day before'. As we delve into the character of Roberto, the shipwrecked man, we are promised insight into his fears and regrets, and the prospect of the struggle to reach the island mirroring Roberto's attempts to come to terms with his past and who he is. Even avoiding any mystical time-travelling element, this promised a satisfying literary adventure.

Unfortunately, it never quite pans out like that. Early attempts to subvert the tropes of nautical adventures and Robinsonades are abandoned in favour of a surprisingly dull backstory of a castle siege and a convoluted, Dumas-like romance surrounding Roberto's make-believe twin brother Ferrante. The book also indulges a bit too heartily in its academic digressions. They're largely redundant digressions at that, being concerned largely with matters of longitude (in the days before Harrison's chronometer), Catholic theological debates and 17th-century cosmology.

Such erudite digressions are a regular characteristic of this author, of course, and it can seem wrong to criticise them. But in better books (namely The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum) they are balanced out by a slim but clear plotline. This never emerges in Island; we slip in and out of Roberto's train of thought, never really getting a handle on the character or his goals. What the Island is meant to represent becomes increasingly elusive until, fatigued by all the dry abstractions, the reader loses all interest in it. The concept, however compelling, is never fully utilised, and the reader's growing disappointment at this becomes an increasingly dogged endurance battle against what remains.

For what remains is 500+ pages of redundant digressions loosely tethered to a slight plot. Of the book's ideas I have little to say, for the currents of The Island of the Day Before remain mired in all its miscellanea. Other reviewers have praised the quality of the writing, but I found it to be too much of that poetic mud that many readers get their wheels stuck in. It's not only the indulgence of archaic trivia – expected of Eco – but a flurry of florid similes; every great line ("a reddish cloud suddenly cast between ship and sky a bloody shadow as if, up above, they had slaughtered the Horses of the Sun" (pg. 460)) is outnumbered by one of dense, ineffectual meandering by a factor of twenty. Eco's erudition can be enjoyable (see, for example, those two other titles of his I mentioned), but his verbosity and the death-hand it places on the pace of this particular story sucks much of that enjoyment away. In a story with inadequate plot, such prose is fatal. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Dec 19, 2021 |
413
  revirier | Dec 13, 2021 |
Not as weird as the title suggests. This is mostly i guess a fictional historical biography, set in the 17th century. Very highbrow, lot of words you'll need to look up. About half of it is flashback and another large chunk is a story the protagonist is writing. A lot of it is just conversations and thoughts. A bit like Moby Dick in its continuous digressions from what one might think of as the story. However while it is a little boring in places its VERY well written. I liked.
oh and a hat-tip to the translator this must have been a hell of a job. ( )
  wreade1872 | Nov 28, 2021 |
Closer to 2.5. Just didn’t really enjoy it that much. ( )
  skolastic | Feb 2, 2021 |
I gave this one 4 stars because it really is a mind expanding read. A work of fiction within a work of fiction. Lots of digressions on philosophy and other things. ( )
  charlie68 | Nov 4, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eco, Umbertoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boeke, YondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franssen, MaartenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krone, PattyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saarikoski, TuulaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Is the Pacifique Sea my Home?

John Donne,
Hymne to God my God
Stolto! a cui parlo? Misero! Che tento?
Racconto il dolor mio
a l'insensata riva
a la mutola selce, al sordo vento . . .
Ahi, ch'altro non risponde
che il mormorar del'onde!

Giovan Battista Marino,
“Eco,” La Lira, XIX
Dedication
First words
I take pride withal in my humiliation, and as I am to this privilege condemned, almost I find joy in an abhorrent salvation; I am, I believe, alone of all our race, the only man in human memory to have been shipwrecked and cast up upon a deserted ship.
"Eppure m'inorgoglisco della mia umiliazione, e poiché a tal privilegio son condannato, quasi godo di un'abborrita salvezza: sono, credo, a memoria d'uomo, l'unico essere della nostra specie ad aver fatto naufragio su di un nave deserta."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The 6 hour audiobook edition read by Tim Curry is an abridged edition and should not be combined with complete editions of the book. Thank you.
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A 17th Century Italian knight recounts his adventures during a siege in the Thirty Years' War and afterwards in naval espionage against the British. In between, he describes the salons of Paris, lessons in fencing and reasons of state, and gives his thoughts on writing love letters and on blasphemy.

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