Foucault's Pendulum is the follow-up by Umberto Eco to his wildly successful debut novel The Name of the Rose. The fact that that this makes Foucault’s Pendulum Eco’s second novel should not create the misconception that he was a young, essentially inexperienced writer trading on a publishing phenomenon. Eco was a 50 year old highly regarded writer and translator of non-fiction books on philosophy, semiotics, media studies, literary criticism, history and more. All this knowledge accumulated by Eco prepared him to write a debut and sophomore novel of uncommon complexity that puts on display not just his broad range of knowledge, but a creative spirit capable of artistically integrating labyrinthine plots with continual wordplay and language games.
Foucault’s Pendulum might be described as The Da Vinci Code as if written by Thomas Pynchon. The plot is somewhat similar to that crowd-pleasing, fast-paced thriller in that touches upon a secret international conspiracy involving the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail. And that is pretty much where the comparison ends. While Dan Brown wrote a wonderfully engaging page-turner, Foucault’s Pendulum requires concentrate and is perhaps best rest with the internet nearby. Not to suggest that Eco is not an engaging writer, but plot is subordinated to nearly every other aspect of the literary art of writing a novel. Make it to the end of Foucault’s Pendulum and what is recalled from the experience is the potential for a wealth of memories, the least of which may well be what happened and why.
It should most definitely be taken as a sign of how to approach the book that the revelation of the conspiracy which initiates the aspects of the thriller within the book starts out as a pre-internet computer program as a joke that for the sake of comparison can be said to resemble those programs that allegedly produce coded messages in Biblical scripture when certain numerical strings of letters are put together. Those academics having with this program—the Plan—wind up seeming to have accidentally stumbled upon a genuinely secret society that has taken notice of this crack in their code version history. The result is a thriller that takes the idea of secret societies and situates it into the very concrete world of interpretation. Essentially the book is proposing the question of when should interpretation of meaning each a point at which it should be closed down. Or, conversely, should everything always be completely left open to interpretation?
Although successful, Foucault’s Pendulum failed to generate the widespread acclaim and interest of The Name of the Rose as well as lure Hollywood to try their hand at bit screen adaptation, though that may have been in part due to the underperformance at the box office of that film.