It has been a while since I read anything by Umberto Eco, so I decided to give it a shot.
The main character, Colonna, is an unsuccessful writer who became a translator. One day in 1992 his friend offers him a well paid job – he is supposed to be an assistant editor in a newspaper where his friend is chief editor already, the tricky part is the newspaper is just starting and it will never be published; second part of Colonna’s task is to ghost write a book for his friend about being a chief editor of a newspaper that will never be published.
I promise you there is an explanation in the book why it all makes sense, also this one is the simple storyline. While at the paper Colonna meets Braggadocio, a journalist obsessed with conspiracy theories. Over the course of the book Braggadocio shares his findings with Colonna, who listens politely nodding his head. Braggadocio believes that Mussolini was not killed in 1945, that it was his double who was executed, because CIA deemed that Il Duce may still be useful in fighting communists in the future. From there Braggadocio explains every post-war disaster and act of terrorism in Italy with his conspiracy theory blaming intelligence agencies and the Catholic Church. Those parts of the book are a bit taxing for non-Italian reader, I had to read a lot on the side to know more about the events mentioned by Braggadocio. Colonna treats all this as entertainment, until a body is found.
Another interesting part of the book are the discussions on how to create a good newspaper, what is the role of news, what language should be used to best manipulate readers. The journalists involved don’t even try to remain objective. It is proper applied cynicism.
Yet another aspect is the way Eco describes Milan, it is a tender and loving portrait of a city, by someone who lived there for a long time.
As always with Eco he is using his knowledge to construct ridiculous but undeniable conspiracy theories, showing off and making fun of them at the same time. The entire book serves as a formal construct for discussion about power, corruption, lies and perception of reality. It is difficult to warm up to the characters, because they’re just props used in an intellectual exercise. It is quite enjoyable, though Foucault’s Pendulum was way better.
Quotes from Numero Zero
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska