by Umberto Eco
2015 (US) / 208 pages
read by David Colacci
rating 8.75 / literary crime (satire)
Big fan of Eco here – since The Name of the Rose and including some nonfiction. (May I recommend Six Walks in a Fictional Woods?).
Numero Zero is shorter and lighter than his prior fictions which usually involve a fair amount of semiotics and complex historical plots with themes of conspiracy theories which bumbling folks get sucked into – or authorize for devious reasons.
Although it’s not nearly as detailed, the theme of Numero Zero is most similar to that of Foucault’s Pendulum and The Prague Cemetery. The year is 1992 (for an Italian political reason) the place is Milan. This time a writer named Colonna wants to be famous but can’t seem to get there. Instead he’s stuck with minor reviews and translations.
But one day Colonna is approached by Doctor Seimi, the would-be publisher (but not owner) of a new newspaper, Domani (tomorrow), which plans to write scandalous articles probably to be used by the never- named owner for blackmail. They also want to publish tomorrow’s news today, the findings. lol
Seimi is unscrupulous, the paper will backdate stories making it look like they were correct in their reporting of “tomorrow’s” news. And they want to publish whatever else they come across to attract ignorant readers. There’s lots of info about how to produce a completely unreliable newspaper with hot sales. It’s quite funny –
Everyone knows that newspapers lie anyway – just look at the man-on-the-moon hoax. So Colonna investigates various old items in order to uncover the details about what will be in tomorrow’s news.
The background in Italy is that in 1992 the old issues of conspiracy and power-plays was back in the news along with a general election.
The newspaper is never to really go on sale – Seimi is producing it for review by the millionaire owner for his approval – what the owner wants is a scandal sheet to harass the current elite with. What Seimi wants is 12 issues to be able to show the never-named owner what he can do. Seimi will be taking credit if it sells and Colonna will be paid no matter what.
One of the more ambitious hack reporters at the paper, Braggadoccio, takes on the great scandal of Mussolini’s body which in some circles has never really died out. But … what will we talk ourselves into believing – or ignoring? Is it really dangerous?
But the actual crime which comes up rather late in the book has to do with the results of the scandals and the disappearance of Mussolini – or his body? – Or his being? Or the reporting of all this? Or is is something else entirely?
There’s apparently a lot of Italian socio-political satire here as well, but I’d say most of that went right over my head. It’s a fun book – think Rupert Murdoch meets the JFK conspiracy. But conspiracy theories and Machiavellian tactics have long been a part of Italian political scene and Eco uses it quite effectively.