Numero Zero is the final novel of Umberto Eco, still released during his lifetime (2015).
But it was not a lucky number seven novel.
He died on February 19, 2016.
Summarised in one sentence, it’s a satire of the tabloid press in Italy in 1992.
The story is told by Colonna, a not very successful journalist, who is hired to work on a newspaper called Domani (Tomorrow) that will never be published, but which will prepare “zero issues”.
The declared aim of the newspaper is to publish just about anything, “plus a little more”. Yet the real aim of the newspaper’s sponsor, Commandeur Vimercate, is to scare powerful figures high up in the world of finance and politics who don’t want the truth to be revealed. Out of fear, they will let him into their inner circle of power. If everything evolves according to plan, that is.
Colonna is befriended by Braggadocio, one of his colleagues at Domani, a paranoid who sees conspiracies all around him. He tells Colonna he is investigating a story about Mussolini where Mussolini managed to avoid being killed during the last days of World War.
Eco’s plot (if that is what you may call it) is made out of events from the final days of the Second World War, the terrorist attacks of the 1970s, and references to many Italian figures from the past seventy years.
The first chapter reads as a diagnosis of losers, full of platitudes.
Another chapter further down the book contains nothing else than a seemingly endless enumeration of names of conspirators and organizations involved.
I read this novel in one go, during an afternoon and part of the evening.
After all, it’s only 223p.
I was severely disappointed.
In 1984, I had been hooked for days on end by ‘The Name of the Rose ‘. This time, I discerned no structure worth mentioning, no buildup, no climax, no anything.
It’s almost as if Umberto Eco didn’t have enough time or enough pages to construct something decent out of the material at hand.
Was he hurrying to get it finished, disregarding his own writing standards?
We’ll never know.
For those who want to know more about the background of this novel:
- Presidents and prime ministers: Aldo Moro – Francesco Cossiga – Giulio Andreotti
- Popes: John Paul I – John Paul II
- Bankers: Michele Sindona – Roberto Calvi, Cardinal Marcinkus
- Secret organizations: Special Operations Executive – CIA – Operation Gladio – Red Brigades