I pored over the first 200 pages of this book, trying to find translations and definitions of the various names, quotes and terms. I gave up when I could not see the connection between the quotations and the narrative. I understand that the quotes were from people mentioned in the book, various authors and members of secret societies. However, I never did quite grasp the applicability of the specific quotes, especially since the gist was covered in the text of the chapters.
So then I decided I would just try to follow the story, hoping to learn more about the characters and the mysterious Plan. Now I am at the end (about 50 pages to go) and I see that there are certain characters to whom I should have paid more attention (Lorenza/Sophia, the supposedly fictional Kelley) but the references applied to these characters were lost in the sea of all the other references. Now I cannot remember the significance of the “saint and the prostitute”. Plus, I thought Kelley was a character Belbo made up. If that is true then I see now how all of these characters (I’m speaking of the ones who attended the rite in the Museum) have come to believe in the Plan. Is that all there is to it? Is there something about these characters that would make the ending of the book more interesting? Also, my hope was that the Plan would be a bit more compelling – that the birth of the Plan would be more of a lightbulb moment for the characters but it did not come across that way in the book. It was more like I was reading and reading and reading and then realized; Oh hey, now they are talking about the Plan. I really was paying attention, I swear.
Another thing that bothers me about the writing style is those damn quotations at the beginning of each chapter - they interrupted the story. I’ve not seen this approach as a literary device and I am wondering what the purpose is. I first noticed it when I finished Chapter 19 and thought to myself “OK, that is the end of that piece of the story, what’s next?” and then I read the quote at the beginning of Chapter 20, let it digest a bit and then started on the text of Chapter 20. But the first sentence of Chapter 20 picked right up from where Chapter 19 left off. Why stick a quote in the middle of the narrative?
Also, there is a lot of foreign language in the book. I feel like some of the foreign phrases and dialogue here were critical. Again, these feel like an interruption in the narrative. Was I supposed to try and translate these phrases?
The other thing that baffles me is why Eco thought we would remember small details about the first few chapters. He does remind us that about 500 pages of this book are a flashback that Casaubon is narrating while in the museum. But was I supposed to remember his descriptions of the minutiae of the museum?
I like to read and I do not read just to pass the time. I want to take something away from the story or meet an interesting character. The reason I read this book is because it was our book club’s selection for this month. In the spirit of the book club (i.e., exposing myself to books that I would otherwise not choose for myself), I decided I would finish the book. And even though I knew that I would not enjoy the subject matter (secret societies, Templar Knights, the Holy Grail, blah blah blah), I thought at least there might be a good story in there.
What am I missing?