Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Smart Novels with Cool Plots

That's what I like.  I say this having just finished Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (this must be the third time I've read it), which is terrific.

Set aside all the cerebral stuff about the interaction among texts and the question as to whether there is order in the world (which I like).  Demur to the awesomeness of Eco's setting, his diversions into Latin, his bringing to life the schism of early fourteenth century Christendom (of which I can only stand in awe).  Enjoy the prose, capable of rugged narrative muscularity, distinctive and vernacular dialog and learned sinuousness in the same paragraph (wow).

The book's just a good thriller.  Some incomplete and off-the-cuff observations about what makes the book good and that could be emulated in a less cerebral and less literary novel:

  • the hero is rapidly characterized (in the opening scene, Brother William makes a series of surprising inferences about a missing horse, and takes pleasure in the astonishment of his audience);
  • the hero (and sidekick) are flawed, vulnerable and interesting people;
  • the plot kicks off quickly, with the first murder taking place almost immediately;
  • the detective characters are active, affirmatively seeking information to test hypotheses throughout;
  • tension escalates right through the very last chaper: at first it's just a murder, then it's murders plural with the imminent arrival of the Pope's men, then we learn that the Pope's men are headed by a ruthless inquisitor, then the apocalyptic scheme is deduced, then the papal legation arrives and we see the fearsome Bernardo Gui in action, then there is only one night left to solve the mystery, then there is the climactic action sequence and the fire!... wow, again;
  • although tension rises steadily through the book and each action sequence ups the ante from the one preceding it, there are breaks (sequel) between the action bits (scene) -- the book is well paced.
I'm going to have to re-read Baudolino and The Island of the Day Before, but first, back to CONduit and related reporting.

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