The Island of the Day Before

Umberto Eco, Author, Eco, Author, William Weaver, Translator Harcourt Brace $36 (528p) ISBN 978-0-15-100151-4
In this tale of an Italian nobleman shipwrecked in the South Pacific in 1643, Eco's storytelling abilities and his love for esoteric historical detail, so beautifully balanced in The Name of the Rose, are sadly out of kilter, with the arcana overwhelming the plot. As part of a cabal instigated by French Cardinal Mazarin and his protege Colbert, Robert della Griva has been traveling in disguise on an English ship whose mission is to discover the Punto Fijo, the means by which navigators can plumb ``the mystery of longitude.'' Cast adrift during a storm, Roberto fetches up against another ship, the Daphne, whose crew has mysteriously vanished. Although the vessel is moored only a mile from an enchanting island (the two may be on opposite sides of the date line, giving the book its title), Roberto, a nonswimmer, is as marooned as though in mid-ocean. The text consists of a third-person narrator's retelling of Roberto's manuscript recounting his adventures on the ship and such previous experiences as his participation in the siege of Casale and life among the erudite of Paris. There are some magical descriptions of Roberto's moonlit solitude aboard the Daphne, but the introduction of a third story line involving his imaginary evil twin hopelessly tangles a narrative already overloaded with lengthy exegeses on such obscure 17th-century devices as the Powder of Sympathy and the Specula Melitensis. Eco's postmodernist games--he directly addresses the reader, explaining how little the narrator knows--wear thin, and some delightfully secondary characters who appear too briefly only remind us how unfocused the novel is. Perhaps Eco himself was aware of the novel's faults when writing it--for his narrator criticizes Roberto's tale as ``narrating so many stories at once that at a certain point it becomes difficult to pick up the thread.'' Author tour. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/30/1995
Release date: 11/01/1995
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-14-025919-3
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-55927-360-2
Paperback - 513 pages - 978-0-15-603037-3
Open Ebook - 528 pages - 978-0-547-56389-3
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