At the age of forty-eight, Umberto Eco published his first novel, The Name of the Rose, the eponymous film followed, and a young novelist was born. There followed several other successful novels and the most recent, The Prague Cemetery. Long before this late-blooming career, Eco had a reputation as a medievalist, philosopher and scholar of semiology (“The science of communication studied through the interpretation of signs and symbols as they operate in various fields, esp. language”). Now in his late seventies, and with a mischievous sense of humor, he presents us with confessions on his work as a novelist.
What appear to be a series of essays were originally lectures given as part of Emory University's Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature in 2008. In an approachable and scholarly analysis he presents his ideas on the differences between fiction and non-fiction and what is required to write in these areas. Also, he delineates the different approaches taken when writing a novel versus an expository work; what inspires him and the why and how-to of interpreting fiction and non-fiction. And, on the last point, as a very good professor he makes us think about what we read and why. In addition he asks questions that many a reader may have had but was afraid to ask, especially in a book club discussion. As a novelist he explores these concepts in a cunning way that results in a unique and humorous series of riffs on language, words, and lists.
Eco has written numerous scholarly non-fiction works and if his confessions do not sound all that accessible, which actually they are, then try a work that is both humorous and serious, How to Travel With a Salmon & Other Essays. This late-bloomer aka young novelist has some surprises to offer in both his essays and his novels.