Mon, 07 Mar 2005

Foucault's Pendulum

I liked The Name of the Rose, so when I saw Foucault's Pendulum at the bookstore, I decided to grab it. Unfortunately for me, it's a rather different sort of book than The Name of the Rose.

The Name of the Rose is essentially a detective story. It's set in medieval times and is told in a wonderfully baroque manner, but with all the descriptive flourishes pared away its story is relatively straightforward. Foucault's Pendulum is more of a surrealist book--the journey matters more than the destination, and the book's climax is just a single element in the tapestry of the narrative, a fact for which I was not completely prepared.

The pacing of the book is also rather slow, and not always in a good way. In, say, A Fire Upon the Deep, the pace is slow, but there's a feeling of grandness, of something gradually but inexorably building as the story progresses. I often felt that Foucault's Pendulum was dragging along without necessarily going anywhere, especially during the elaboration of the Plan, where the characters just keep piling details on details seemingly without end.

I should not that the edition I read had an annoying synopsis on the back cover. It claimed that the main characters put facts into a computer that drew connections between apparently disparate facts. In the book, those events don't take place until about two-thirds of the way in, and the actual details are somewhat different than those which the synopsis implies. At least it didn't completely give away things, like the summary text at the beginning of my copy of Archangel.

I'll discuss the ending below the spoiler barrier.

Again, Foucault's Pendulum is not a straightforward tale. Since I was expecting one, the ending came as something of a disappointment to me. Throughout the entire book, the narrator referenced the events of that night in terms that were filled with portent. When the book actually got around to describing it, I thought it very anticlimactic. There's the implication that the main characters have somehow divined something true, but the climax arrives and the reader is told, "No, sorry. It's all fake."

I suppose I should read it again in the right frame of mind, but it's really dense and I'm not sure the effort would be worth it. Goes on the "someday, if I get around to it" list.

Phil! Gold