In one of those odd sychronicities life likes to cough up, my copy of Guido Crepax‘s ‘Valentina’ arrived this morning. It has a foreword written by the recently deceased Umberto Eco.
Sadly, owing to a misunderstanding on my part, it’s all in German, a language that is almost entirely a mystery to me.
By complete accident then, that is one more piece of writing by Eco that will pass me by. I tried and failed (four times) to read ‘Name of the Rose‘ each time foundering on the interminable description of the bloody door in the monastery. I attempted ‘Baudolino‘, and thoroughly enjoyed the opening sequence that pretended to reproduce the sequence written on parchment. Then it started up properly and once again, I found myself bored by the prose. I should have enjoyed this book dealing as it does with a mediaeval knight in Constantinople at the time of the Fourth Crusade – a collision of several of my particular interests – Byzantium, the Crusades and wider mediaeval European history. But…
Having learnt my lesson, I never even picked up ‘Foucault’s Pendulum‘ or any of his other works.
It’s a shame to lose a novelist/philosopher of Eco’s standing, but I can’t pretend that I’ll ever read any of his work.
This same few days sees the loss of Nelle Harper Lee, another giant of twentieth century literature, a reputation based upon a single novel and a handful of published articles. I’ve never read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and probably never will. I’m even less likely to read ‘Go Set a Watchman’, a novel that according to many reports might best have been left unpublished, or issued solely as an academic curiosity in the development of written ideas.
Despite the unlikeliness that I’ll ever read her work, I find it sad that she’s passed, too (not least because it transpires that she was a big fan of Opus the Penguin).
There remains, however, the remote possibility that I shall one day read something written by Umberto Eco, though that possibility is, indeed, very remote and receding. One of my favourite authors is Alexandre Dumas (pere): I love the Musketeers books and venture that I am one of the few people of my age who has read the entire sequence. The thing is, though, that you have to find then right translation. There are many translations out there that make the prose remarkably turgid. I particularly dislike that used for the old Penguin paperback (- I was going to link, but I see that it was republished in 2008 with what might be a new translation). My favourite is that published by Collins Pocket Classics, with a translation from about 1935. Again, I would have linked to that, but I’m not sure it hasn’t been retranslated, too.
The point is, though, that to read a book by Umberto Eco, I think I need a more readable and engaging translation. Given that I shall be deep in my dotage when his works go out of copyright and that they sell well enough as they are, I very much doubt that I shall ever find an edition that I find palatable.
That said, I am tempted to try to break my duck with ‘The Prague Cemetery‘, which covers other areas I find interesting, being ‘… the story of a secret agent who “weaves plots, conspiracies, intrigues and attacks, and helps determine the historical and political fate of the European Continent.”‘
Maybe I haven’t learnt my lesson after all. But I’m in no hurry.