book reviews by Althea

Numero Zero – Umberto Eco ***

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Numero Zero
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, that was an alright read, with some interesting content… but it’s not going to go down in history as one of Eco’s major novels. As a matter of fact, I hesitate to classify it as a novel. It’s more like one of Eco’s essays, fleshed out with a bit of plot.

The premise: in 1990s Italy, a journalist, Colonna, is hired to work at a news magazine that, he’s told up front, will never actually be published. The concept will instead be used to achieve the publisher’s political ends, by making certain parties afraid of what the paper MIGHT choose to expose, when it launches. But of course, to make it look like a real business, staffers are required. A motley crew of media misfits are assembled. However, one of them, the paranoid Braggadocio, comes up with a far-fetched conspiracy theory involving military scandal and secrets reaching right up to the Vatican. The idea seems like pure fantasy – but when a very real murder occurs, it seem like someone might want Braggadocio’s ideas kept silent. As someone who’s known to have listened to his stories, Colonna is now in fear for his life…

The plot summary makes the book sound a bit more exciting than it is. The majority of it is commentary on the news media and its place and function in our society. There are some very funny, witty and insightful bits – but I feel like I probably missed some of it, due to it being very clearly intended for an Italian audience. The 1990s setting made it also feel strangely out-of-date: with the advent of the internet, news reporting has changed a LOT, and it seems like Eco intentionally put his story in the past because he didn’t want to deal with any of that at all. it would have required a more complex book, because the dynamics between publisher, journalist, subject and audience which this book deals with are all affected by the changes that have happened over the past decades.

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