by Umberto Eco
Vintage, Penguin Random House
Pub Date Nov 5, 2015
“The most effective insinuation is one that gives facts that are valueless in themselves, yet cannot be denied because they are true”
Umberto Eco’s latest book is great fun. It’s a satire on the modern media landscape, and the throw away nature events and revelations – that should cause people to take to the streets – instead merely get forgotten as they become tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers. It deals with the nature of the press, the cliched view of the Italian state and throws in a conspiracy theory or three for good measure too.
It’s 1992 and Colonna, a failed 50 year old writer has come to Milan to meet Simei, a man who has been hired by a rich property and media magnet, Vimercate, to create a new newspaper. The only catch is that the plan is for the newspaper to never see the light of day. He wants a small dedicated staff to create a dozen ‘zero issues’ of a newspaper. The staff will be told it is a sort of proof of concept for the eventual launch of the real thing.
But Colonna is told the truth. Simei explains that the true purpose of this venture is give their benefactor the leverage to get into the inner sanctum of a small group of the most powerful men in Italy, who for all intents and purposes control the country. To do this they must make sure to expose and unmask some of them in the mock issues. He will then agree to ‘close down’ the paper for the price of entry into their secret club.
The joy of the project is they can choose days and events already long past for the dummy issues.
Colonna’s task will be to pen Simei’s ‘memoir’ of the events of the year.
This is a wonderfully humourus novel with the editorial meetings discussing the content for the proposed paper a perfect fulcrum for the events of the novel.It is a lesson in how the tabloid press operate.
But it is not the only thing happening within the book. One of the other journalists working on the project, Braggadocio, has also gotten hold of what he thinks is a much bigger story involving the death of Mussolini, the CIA, and Operation Gladio – one of the ‘stay-behind’ operations during the cold war. But, he fears that there are people that don’t want him to tell his story. It turns out his is right.
You could start to think the book is going to become more of a thriller, but it is more a minor detour from the book’s satirical heart.
This quite a short novel. It may not be his best – it lacks real depth of character – but it is certainly one of his most fun to read.