Umberto Eco’s latest novel is short but the satire pumps it up to become a formidable read. As with many of Eco’s works, Numero Zero is involved with fictions and conspiracies.
It’s safe to contend that Eco has written a satire of the corruption and failure of the Italian government fronted by that well-known playboy and media tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi. In Eco’s fiction, a rich and powerful man known as Il Commendatore commissions a new newspaper which will be less involved with rehashing yesterday’s news and more focused on developing the future effects of that news. To this end a group of ragged journalists is brought together and a series of papers is planned to show that Il Commendatore can get the job done. It is important to understand that this first run (Numero Zero) is a fake mock-up cobbled together from old news with the intension, not of developing new media, but rather to convince the media insiders that Il Commendatore should be admitted to their inner-circle.
It should be obvious that Il Commendatore is modeled after Berlusconi.
In the process of putting together this fake newspaper, the somewhat unscrupulous editor gives plenty of advice on how to twist the story or make prevarication seem like the truth in order to sell papers and also to manipulate public understanding and opinions. I found this aspect of the novel just as pertinent to activities in the American press (and especially on Fox News) as they probably were when analyzing the Italian press.
About when I was enjoying the satire of the media, Eco has one of the characters begin to spin the story of the conspiracy. I understand the conspiracy development is central to the final theme, but I did think Eco broke the pace of the novel for way too much historical detail (real or imagined). I will only say that the conspiracy involved Il Duce and the Vatican and Argentina and things that go bump in the night.
When I first read this novel I was more concerned about the pacing than I am now, after spending some time looking back on the text. It starts with the character of a real loser, picks up with the team to publish Volume Zero of Domani, slows down with the detail of the conspiracy, sky-rockets with the events surrounding the demise of Domani, and then evens out when a less dramatic explanation of those events is offered.
I liked it (much more than the endless regurgitation of erudition that bogged down Eco’s early novels).
Whether this editorial advice references the newspaper or the Italian society or Fox News, it’s good to remember:
There are lies all around us, and if you know they're feeding you lies, you've got to be suspicious all the time.
Umberto Eco is an important academic and has many publications to his credit (some you might find interesting and some you might find obtuse) but for our purposes here, Eco has written a few novels that deserve our attention. From Wikipedia:
- Il nome della rosa (1980; English translation: The Name of the Rose, 1983)
- Il pendolo di Foucault (1988; English translation: Foucault’s Pendulum, 1989)
- L’isola del giorno prima (1994; English translation: The Island of the Day Before, 1995)
- Baudolino (2000; English translation: Baudolino, 2001)
- La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana (2004; English translation: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2005)
- Il cimitero di Praga (2010; English translation: The Prague Cemetery, 2011)
- Numero zero (2015).