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Numero Zero

Numero Zero

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Numero Zero

3/5 (26 ratings)
172 pages
5 hours
Nov 3, 2015


#1 Italian bestseller
“Witty and wry . . . It’s hard not to be charmed.” — New York Times Book Review

“One of the most influential thinkers of our time.” — Los Angeles Times
1945, Lake Como. Mussolini and his mistress are captured and shot by local partisans. The precise circumstances of Il Duce’s death remain controversial.
1992, Milan. Colonna, a depressed hack writer, is offered a fee he can’t resist to ghostwrite a book. His subject: a fledgling newspaper, which happens to be financed by a powerful media magnate. As Colonna gets to know the team, he learns of the editor’s paranoid theory that Mussolini’s corpse was a body double and part of a wider Fascist plot. It’s the scoop the newspaper desperately needs. The evidence? He’s working on it.
It’s all there: media hoaxes, Mafiosi, the CIA, the Pentagon, blackmail, love, gossip, and murder. A clash of forces that have shaped Italy since World War II — from Mussolini to Berlusconi. “Farcical, serious, satiric, and tragic” (Le Point, France), Numero Zero is the work of a master storyteller.
UMBERTO ECO (1932–2016) was the author of numerous essay collections and seven novels, including The Name of the Rose,The Prague Cemetery, and Inventing the Enemy. He received Italy’s highest literary award, the Premio Strega, was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government, and was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
Nov 3, 2015

About the author

UMBERTO ECO (1932–2016) was the author of numerous essay collections and seven novels, including The Name of the Rose,The Prague Cemetery, and Inventing the Enemy. He received Italy’s highest literary award, the Premio Strega, was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government, and was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Numero Zero - Umberto Eco


First Mariner Books edition 2016

First U.S. edition

Copyright © 2015 by Bompiani / RCS Libri S.p.A.

English translation copyright © 2015 by Richard Dixon

First published in Great Britain in 2015 by Harvill Secker

All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN 978-0-544-63508-1 (hardback) ISBN 978-0-544-81183-6 (pbk.)

ISBN 978-0-544-66826-3 (trade paper international edition)

This book was originally published in Italian with the title Numero Zero by Bompiani, Milan, 2015.

Cover design by Michaela Sullivan

Cover photograph © Françoise Lacroix/

eISBN 978-0-544-63509-8


For Anita

Only connect!



Saturday, June 6, 1992, 8 a.m.

No water in the tap this morning.

Gurgle, gurgle, two sounds like a baby’s burp, then nothing.

I knocked next door: everything was fine there. You must have closed the valve, she said. Me? I don’t even know where it is. Haven’t been here long, you know, don’t get home till late. Good heavens! But don’t you turn off the water and gas when you’re away for a week? Me, no. That’s pretty careless. Let me come in, I’ll show you.

She opened the cupboard beneath the sink, moved something, and the water was on. See? You’d turned it off. Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Ah, you singles! Exit neighbor: now even she talks English.

Keep calm. There are no such things as poltergeists, only in films. And I’m no sleepwalker, but even if I had sleepwalked, I wouldn’t have known anything about the valve or I’d have closed it when I couldn’t sleep, because the shower leaks and I’m always liable to spend the night wide-eyed listening to the dripping, like Chopin at Valldemossa. In fact, I often wake up, get out of bed, and shut the bathroom door so I don’t hear that goddamn drip.

It couldn’t have been an electrical contact (it’s a hand valve, it can only be worked by hand), or a mouse, which, even if there was a mouse, would hardly have had the strength to move such a contraption. It’s an old-fashioned tap (everything in this apartment dates back at least fifty years) and rusty besides. So it needed a hand. Humanoid. And I don’t have a chimney down which the Ourang-Outang of Rue Morgue could have climbed.

Let’s think. Every effect has its cause, or so they say. We can rule out a miracle—I can’t see why God would worry about my shower, it’s hardly the Red Sea. So, a natural effect, a natural cause. Last night before going to bed, I took a sleeping pill with a glass of water. Obviously the water was still running then. This morning it wasn’t. So, my dear Watson, the valve had been closed during the night—and not by you. Someone was in my house, and he, they, were afraid I might have been disturbed, not by the noise they were making (they were silent as the grave) but by the drip, which might have irritated even them, and perhaps they wondered why I didn’t stir. And, very craftily, they did what my neighbor would have done: they turned off the water.

And then? My books are in their usual disarray, half the world’s secret services could have gone through them page by page without my noticing. No point looking in the drawers and opening the cupboard in the corridor. If they wanted to make a discovery, there’s only one thing to do these days: rummage through the computer. Perhaps they’d copied everything so as not to waste time and gone back home. And only now, opening and reopening each document, they’d have realized there was nothing in the computer that could possibly interest them.

What were they hoping to find? It’s obvious—I mean, I can’t see any other explanation—they were looking for something to do with the newspaper. They’re not stupid, they’d have assumed I must have made notes about all the work we are doing in the newsroom—and therefore that, if I knew anything about the Braggadocio business, I’d have written it down somewhere. Now they’ll have worked out the truth, that I keep everything on a diskette. Last night, of course, they’d also have been to the office and found no diskette of mine. So they’ll be coming to the conclusion (but only now) that I keep it in my pocket. What idiots we are, they’ll be saying, we should have checked his jacket. Idiots? Shits. If they were smart, they wouldn’t have ended up doing such a scummy job.

Now they’ll have another go, at least until they arrive at the stolen letter. They’ll arrange for me to be jostled in the street by fake pickpockets. So I’d better get moving before they try again. I’ll send the diskette to a poste restante address and decide later when to pick it up. What on earth am I thinking of, one man is already dead, and Simei has flown the nest. They don’t even need to know if I know, and what I know. They’ll get rid of me just to be on the safe side, and that’s the end of it. I can hardly go around telling the newspapers I knew nothing about the whole business, since just by saying it I’d make it clear I knew what had happened.

How did I end up in this mess? I think it’s all the fault of Professor Di Samis and the fact that I know German.

What makes me think of Di Samis, a business of decades ago? I’ve always blamed Di Samis for my failure to graduate, and it’s all because I never graduated that I ended up in this mess. And then Anna left me after two years of marriage because she’d come to realize, in her words, that I was a compulsive loser—God knows what I must have told her at the time to make myself look good.

I never graduated due to the fact that I know German. My grandmother came from South Tyrol and made me speak it when I was young. Right from my first year at university I’d taken to translating books from German to pay for my studies. Just knowing German was a profession at the time. You could read and translate books that others didn’t understand (books regarded as important then), and you were paid better than translators from French and even from English. Today I think the same is true of those who know Chinese or Russian. In any event, either you translate or you graduate; you can’t do both. Translation means staying at home, in the warmth or the cold, working in your slippers and learning tons of things in the process. So why go to university lectures?

I decided on a whim to register for a German course. I wouldn’t have to study much, I thought, since I already knew it all. The luminary at that time was Professor Di Samis, who had created what the students called his eagle’s nest in a dilapidated Baroque palace where you climbed a grand staircase to reach a large atrium. On one side was Di Samis’s establishment, on the other the aula magna, as the professor pompously called it, a lecture hall with fifty or so seats.

You could enter his establishment only if you put on felt slippers. At the entrance there were enough for the assistants and two or three students. Those without slippers had to wait their turn outside. Everything was polished to a high gloss, even, I think, the books on the walls. And even the faces of the elderly assistants who had been waiting their chance for a teaching position from time immemorial.

The lecture hall had a lofty vaulted ceiling and Gothic windows (I never understood why, in a Baroque palace) with green stained glass. At the correct time, which is to say at fourteen minutes past the hour, Professor Di Samis emerged from the institute, followed at a distance of one meter by his oldest assistant and at two meters by the younger ones, those under fifty. The oldest assistant carried his books, the younger ones the tape recorder—tape recorders at that time were still enormous, and looked like a Rolls-Royce.

Di Samis covered the ten meters that separated the institute from the hall as though they were twenty: he didn’t follow a straight line but a curve (whether a parabola or an ellipse I’m not sure), proclaiming loudly, Here we are, here we are! Then he entered the lecture hall and sat down on a kind of carved podium, waiting to begin with Call me Ishmael.

The green light from the stained-glass windows gave a cadaverous appearance to the face that smiled malevolently, as the assistants set up the tape recorder. Then he began: Contrary to what my valiant colleague Professor Bocardo has said recently . . . and so on for two hours.

That green light sent me into a watery slumber, to be seen also in the eyes of his assistants. I shared their suffering. At the end of the two hours, while we students swarmed out, Professor Di Samis had the tape rewound, stepped down from the podium, seated himself democratically in the front row with his assistants, and together they all listened again to the two-hour lecture, while the professor nodded with satisfaction at each passage he considered essential. It should be noted that the course was on the translation of the Bible in the German of Luther. What a phenomenon, my classmates would say with a forlorn expression.

At the end of the second year, attending infrequently, I ventured to ask whether I could do my thesis on irony in Heine. (I found it consoling the way that he treated unhappy experiences of love with what I felt to be appropriate cynicism—I was preparing for my own experiences of love.) You young people, you young people, Di Samis would say sadly, you want to hurl yourselves immediately at modern authors.

I understood, in a sort of flash, that there was no hope of doing the thesis with Di Samis. Then I thought of Professor Ferio, who was younger and enjoyed a reputation for dazzling intelligence, and who studied the romantic period and around there. But my older classmates warned me that, in any event, I would have Di Samis as second supervisor for the thesis, and not to approach Professor Ferio directly because Di Samis would immediately find out and swear eternal enmity. I had to go by an indirect route, as though Ferio had asked me to do the thesis with him, and De Samis would then take it out on him and not me. Di Samis hated Ferio for the simple reason that he himself had appointed Ferio as professor. At university (then, though still, I understand, today), things are the opposite of the ways of the normal world: it isn’t the sons who hate the fathers, but the fathers who hate the sons.

I thought I’d be able to approach Ferio casually during one of the monthly conferences that Di Samis organized in his aula magna, attended by many colleagues, since he always succeeded in inviting famous scholars.

Things evolved as follows: Right after the conference was the debate, monopolized by professors. Then everyone left, the speaker having been invited to eat at La Tartaruga, the best restaurant in the area, mid-nineteenth-century style, with waiters in tailcoats. To get from the eagle’s nest to the restaurant, one had to walk down a large porticoed street, then across a historic piazza, turn the corner of an elaborate building, and finally cross a smaller piazza. The speaker made his way along the porticoes surrounded by the senior professors, followed one meter behind by the associates, two meters behind by the younger associates, and trailing at a reasonable distance behind them, the bolder students. Having reached the historic piazza the students walked off, at the corner of the elaborate building the assistants took their leave, the associates crossed the smaller piazza and said goodbye at the entrance to the restaurant, where only the guest and the senior professors entered.

So it was that Professor Ferio never came to hear of my existence. In the meantime I fell out of love with the place and stopped attending. I translated like an automaton, but you have to take whatever they give you, and I was rendering a three-volume work on the role of Friedrich List in the creation of the Zollverein, the German Customs Union, in dolce stil novo. So you can understand why I gave up translating from German, but by now it was getting late to return to university.

The trouble is, you don’t get used to the idea: you still feel sure that someday or other you’ll complete all the exams and do your thesis. And anyone who nurtures impossible hopes is already a loser. Once you come to realize it, you just give up.

At first I found work as a tutor to a German boy, too stupid to go to school, in the Engadin. Excellent climate, acceptably isolated, and I held out for a year as the money was good. Then one day the boy’s mother pressed herself against me in a corridor, letting me understand that she was available. She had buck teeth and a hint of a mustache, and I politely indicated that I wasn’t of the same mind. Three days later I was fired because the boy was making no progress.

After that I made a living as a hack journalist. I wanted to write for magazines, but the only interest came from a few local newspapers, so I did things like reviews of provincial shows and touring companies, earning a pittance. I

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What people think about Numero Zero

26 ratings / 26 Reviews
What did you think?
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Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    A return to some of the themes from Foucault's Pendulum, but in a lot of ways a pale sort of return. Now conspiracy theories ARE taken seriously, and are the playthings of the rich and powerful, rather than being the half-articulate protests of the frustrated, the paranoid and the resentful.Foucault's Pendulum was sort of a dark book. In this book the dark forces we could see in FP have made huge progress. Somehow, though, Eco doesn't seem to have the spirit in him to build a great story around them this time.
  • (3/5)
    This was well-written and started right in on the thriller, but then it became more about the politics and manipulation behind the newspaper business with a plausible conspiracy theory thrown in, but not much plot.
  • (2/5)
    Billed as a conspiracy thriller, ‘Numero Zero’, is the portray of a rather loopy conspiracy theory. Unfortunately, it has almost no narrative drive. It consists almost entirely of one person telling another person about something that has happened. Usually a thriller involves suspense and action, two elements which are sorely lacking here. As a satirical poke at Italy’s former Prime Minister it is more successful, and the premise of setting up a fake newspaper for blackmail purposes is rather entertaining, but overall it falls flat.
  • (2/5)
    There is little to praise in this concoction of conspiracies except to say that when Eco nests a story within the story of his book, he does so seamlessly. This very short work is a book about a group of losers brought together to serve a master who is conspiring to blackmail powerful politicians and public figures so that he can be elected to office by using a fictitious newspaper that will publish fictitious news, incriminating rumors, and useless information but will never be distributed.The central character who tells this story is himself told a conspiracy tale by a colleague concerning a conspiracy to deceive the world with Mussolini's faked death, sequester him in Argentina, and return him to Italy and "life" when a fascist figurehead is needed to assure the success of right wing extremists' plans to take over the Italian government, if not the world. It is the protagonist's job to write the "history" of all that occurs while their conspiracy to create a newspaper devoted to recycling information unfolds, resulting in the election of their master who is intimated to be associated with the conspirators' ultimately unsuccessful effort..The book lacks motivated action, true plot, and character development. But it does tease the reader as to its purpose, beyond weaving together nested conspiracies. The best light one can shine on Numero Zero is that Eco wanted to show how the average man can easily succumb to conspiracies when actual news is subsumed by concocted information; when one wealthy person controls the non-news to make sure it is a useful tool for him, and how a grizzled insider (a reporter) can be seduced by the cocktail of coincidence and imagination and fall prey to conspiratorial thinking himself.The thrill in this advertised thriller happens when a member of the staff is stabbed to death in an alley; it is the narrator's colleague who has been spinning the story of what 'really" happened to Mussolini. By a twist of fate and the turn of the TV dial, it becomes apparent that the dead man's death is not a consequence of his involvement in "uncovering" this conspiracy. In fact, he may have just decided to recycle a BBC documentary to which he had advance access into a non-story that would be fit to print in issue "Numero 0" of the company of losers' nonexistent newspaper. End of thrill. None of this is sufficient to make a novel. I'm disappointed that Eco saw fit to send this to his publisher. I'm even more disappointed that they saw fit to publish it. Unless, of course, Eco is tweaking us with his non-novel that he knows is not a novel and knows should not be understood as a one, but as a piece of meta-fiction. Wish I could.
  • (3/5)
    Way too convoluted unless you know Italian politics and like conspiracy theories (or spoofs thereof). Library book.
  • (3/5)
    This was an interesting book to listen to. Eco is a remarkably talented writer and the narrator on the audiobook did a good job. But all the Italian political intrigue went over my head and the ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. I received a copy of this audiobook through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in return for my honest review.
  • (4/5)
    I will read pretty much anything Umberto Eco publishes, and I'm always delighted when a new novel of his appears in English. In this one, much slimmer than his usual offerings, Eco returns to his frequent themes of conspiracy theories, Italian politics, media criticism, and biting satire of journalistic practices and ethics. I suspect those with more knowledge of Italian media and politics may get more out of this one than I did, but the connections to Berlusconi's rise to power are veiled thinly enough even for me to catch. Hilariously funny in many places, and spot-on with much of its evisceration of modern media practices, this is very much worth a read if you're interested in Eco's themes.
  • (4/5)
    I love a good, complex conspiracy theory. I seldom believe them, but I love exploring them and speculating about Machiavellian schemes. So does Umberto Eco. His primary career is as Professor of Semiotics at the University of Bologna, and there is clearly an osmosis between that and his work as a novelist. He has already deconstructed the conspiracy theory with great verve in 'Foucault's Pendulum', a sprawling essay in lateral thinking that both predated and outperformed Dan Brown' 'The Da Vinci Code'. He revisits the genre again, more concisely and prosaically, in his latest novel, 'Numero Zero'. Set in 1992 the book represents the recollections of Colonna, a cynical hack journalist, who is offered a post to help in the preparations of a dummy newspaper for a successful businessman who is considering entering into that field.Colonna, having nothing better on the horizon, recruits a group of colleagues to help prepare their pseudo stories. This gives Eco the opportunity to parody some hardy perennials in the newspaper publishing world. One of the journalists recruited by Colonna, is Braggadocio, an investigative report who is himself a bit of an addict of the conspiracy theory. Having given an impassioned analysis of the proliferation of faux Masonic fraternities operating in Milan over the last century, Braggadocio turns to a more current investigation, and tries to convince Colonna of his potentially explosive theories about the conclusion of the Second World War, and a conspiracy permeating every level of Italian society.More accessible than many of his novels, this is a relatively easy read, and utterly gripping. My knowledge of post-war Italian history is non-existent, but Eco has made me want to look into it in detail, if only to appreciate the twists and turns in this novel even more fully.
  • (1/5)
    I absolutely loved The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. It still remains on my top 10 book list, but this book? I didn't get it, didn't understand any of it, and didn't finish it.
  • (3/5)
    I love a good conspiracy theory story, but this one fell very flat for me. Instead of reading a story of a conspiracy theory happening, with mystery and suspense, it is written like I'm just having a conversation with a friend about his crazy ideas. For the most part it is boring, the characters are pointless, and the plot is a guy talking to another guy. Possibly if I knew more about Italian history this may have been more interesting. The narrator, David Colacci, does a decent job for the most part, but you can feel that he is a bit uninspired.
  • (2/5)
    NUMERO UNO is a satire of Italian politics and modern media strategies wrapped in Eco’s trademark conspiracy motif. The plot revolves around a fanciful attempt to bilk a wealthy investor with aspirations of becoming a media mogul—vaguely evocative of Berlusconi. The farfetched idea is to make up stories that have a ring of truth and are vaguely threatening to this investor’s friends, associates and financial wellbeing. Domani—this is the name of the fictitious publication—will purport to publish these investigative pieces, but in fact will be just using them to extort lira from their mark. Eco assembles a cast of characters who have been working on the fringes of real journalism and spends an inordinate amount of time having them sit around brainstorming about possible bogus stories for Domani. These characters are interesting enough, but the novel is so short that none are never really well developed. Moreover, the potential stories seem fanciful and none are developed enough to really enjoy the humor that they might have stimulated. The narrator is Colonna, a middle-aged hack, who has been involved on the fringes of real journalism for his entire career. He is hired to ghostwrite an autobiography, a task that never really materializes. Eco introduces this idea, which shows some promise, but instead abruptly drops it. The novel takes on a more threatening tone when Braggadocio, one of Domani’s staff, stumbles onto a plot involving the death of Mussolini and a subsequent conspiracy that involves all sorts of outlandish plots involving murder and political machinations. The outcome of the novel seems to suggest that there may have been a grain of truth in Braggadocio’s finding, but it is never resolved.In addition to all of the conspiracy talk, the novel has a romance of sorts, but like the rest of it, this seems too superficial to be taken seriously. This short novel leaves one with the impression of an unfinished work that could have been quite interesting if Eco had invested the effort required to achieve that end. However, as the jazzmen say: “That's All There Is! There Ain't No More!”
  • (1/5)
    Despite having a couple of Umberto Eco's novels on my TBR pile, I'd not yet actually read any of his works prior to this one. My impression was that Eco was a respected novelist, and I'm well aware that his The Name of the Rose has received many rave reviews. Numero Zero is more of a novella, and in this case, a 5-disc audiobook.I'm not sure what happened with this one. In short, it's awful. I read another review which describes this book as satire, and at a very long stretch, that might be the case, but if it is so, it's executed very poorly. The book was basically pointless rambling about the creation of a pseudo Italian newspaper with some questionable conspiracy theory thrown in. It was just very odd and made no sense to me whatsoever. The reader of the audiobook was mediocre, but he drove me crazy when using his female character voice. The only reason I finished this book was because it was short. And honestly, I really only half-listened to most of it. I rarely give up on a book & I rarely rate a book this low, but this one fit the bill.
  • (4/5)
    Numero Zero – The King of Conspiracy ReturnsQuite simply without Umberto Eco we would have had no Dan Brown and the wonder of the conspiracy theory at the heart of a novel. Numero Zero is his seventh novel and carries on in much the same vain as his previous books, even though the conspiracies seem crazy, they are crazy enough to be credible.Our narrator is the middle aged loser Colonna, a very much jaded hack at the end of his career, who is an expert at the lies the popular press like to peddle as fact. He has been hired to write ghost write an autobiography and help advise and edit on Domani, a new newspaper in Milan that will never be published.Numero Zero nicely blends fact and fiction in to the conspiracy that is at the heart of the book, from the summary execution of Mussolini at the end of the Italy’s war to the Red Brigade bomb and kidnapping campaigns of the 1970s. Even though this book is set in the Milan of 1992, when a new political party is rising to challenge the established order and the new politics and police that are challenging corruption at high levels.Domani, which means tomorrow in English, is a complete fantasy staffed by journalists that are hoping for something new, not realising that the publisher is a hotel and communications magnate. He will send a few select people of influence particular a copy to try and influence their opinion but will never be on general sale to the public.One of Colonna’s colleagues, Braggadocio is the king of the Mussolini conspiracy theory and is gathering the scoop of the century that his double was killed while the real Mussolini slipped away to live out his life in Argentina, and that the right-wing hoped to bring him back in 1970 but he died of old age. Colonna thinks his colleague is mad, but it is not until Braggadocio murdered that he thinks he may be on to something. But Colonna had been distracted by Maia who he thinks may be autistic.This is a wonderful book to read, short and punchy, a thriller wrapped up in the tricks of the tabloid press and ruthlessly examined. Even having a punch out at the reviewers who do not read the books they are reviewing, I cannot speak for others, but I read them!
  • (3/5)
    Well, that was an alright read, with some interesting content... but it's not going to go down in history as one of Eco's major novels. As a matter of fact, I hesitate to classify it as a novel. It's more like one of Eco's essays, fleshed out with a bit of plot.

    The premise: in 1990s Italy, a journalist, Colonna, is hired to work at a news magazine that, he's told up front, will never actually be published. The concept will instead be used to achieve the publisher's political ends, by making certain parties afraid of what the paper MIGHT choose to expose, when it launches. But of course, to make it look like a real business, staffers are required. A motley crew of media misfits are assembled. However, one of them, the paranoid Braggadocio, comes up with a far-fetched conspiracy theory involving military scandal and secrets reaching right up to the Vatican. The idea seems like pure fantasy - but when a very real murder occurs, it seem like someone might want Braggadocio's ideas kept silent. As someone who's known to have listened to his stories, Colonna is now in fear for his life...

    The plot summary makes the book sound a bit more exciting than it is. The majority of it is commentary on the news media and its place and function in our society. There are some very funny, witty and insightful bits - but I feel like I probably missed some of it, due to it being very clearly intended for an Italian audience. The 1990s setting made it also feel strangely out-of-date: with the advent of the internet, news reporting has changed a LOT, and it seems like Eco intentionally put his story in the past because he didn't want to deal with any of that at all. it would have required a more complex book, because the dynamics between publisher, journalist, subject and audience which this book deals with are all affected by the changes that have happened over the past decades.
  • (3/5)
    I loved the buildup and idea of this novel: creating a newspaper that will guess/investigate upcoming scandals. But it's not meant to ever exist--it is meant to get the creator/owner into the "inner circle" of publishers. By scaring the existing paper publishers with his incredible newspaper that will not report what has happened, but what might happen. And to do this, his team will create 12 "fake" papers based on past dates. Because it's easy to predict the news when it is in the past. And the paper isn't really the point at all--it's actually to be a book on the fake paper that will be ghostwritten by one of the staff. Only the editor and the staff writer know this. It all sounds so absurd.And then one of the editors begins researching a conspiracy theory involving Mussolini, his double, the WWII left-behinds, the CIA, the Vatican, Argentina, etc. His fellow staff think it sounds crazy (and suspect he is crazy).Great build up, but I found the ending to be a let down. That guy ends up dead. Was it random, or did the CIA/Mafia shut him up? "Paper" is shuttered. But then the BBC has a documentary that is even crazier than his theories--complete with participant interviews. So was his murder random after all?
  • (4/5)
    So in the general context of Eco's oeuvre this is pretty light fare - what Grahame Greene would have classed an "entertainment". But as a final sally from the pen of one of Europe's last true public intellectuals its still pretty powerful. The novel is a kick in the pants to three key targets. Firstly the Italian press, a body Eco is well familiar with having been a columnist for many years - he portrays them as controlled by vested interests, manipulating public opinion, cynical in the extreme. Secondly the status quo - dismissive of younger and more diverse voices, as represented by the young journalist Maie. And finally Italian government as a whole. The whole Mussolini conspiracy thread is clearly farcical - and yet, Eco suggests, it could be true. How can you logically explain the dead hand of the elites on public life, without a good conspiracy to explain it? Possibly this book has more resonance to Italian readers than non Italian but for the rest of us, its still entertaining enough - Eco is back in familiar territory weaving true events into a silky cogent thread of conspiracy . Yes the love scenes are a bit clunky but overall we are still hooked in. Not Eco's best book but better than most. We'll miss him
  • (2/5)
    A light thriller from a famous author, this one fell a little flat for me. It reminded me at times of Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case, but I enjoyed that one more. The premise is overly complicated. A man wants to create a fake newspaper that will investigate scandals in Italy. There's a romance with a younger woman and a mystery involving the possible faking of Mussolini's death. There were amusing moments, but not enough to leave a lasting impression. Read The Name of the Rose instead for a much more fulfilling mystery.
  • (1/5)
    This is so bad.I love Eco, but this book is really really bad.Let me sum up the entire book in one short sentence: [spoiler]Main character meets a guy who tells him his conspiracy theory, and then when they guy is murdered the main character is afraid he might get murdered too because he knows the guy's conspiracy theory, but then he sees a BBC documentary about the same conspiracy theory so everything must be okay.[/spoiler]To add insult to injury, on top of this totally asinine and non-existent plot, we have the awful trope of middle-aged mediocre dude wins the gorgeous young brainiac woman for no apparent reason.
  • (4/5)
    Over a year ago, I started to read Umberto Eco's Il pendolo di Foucault but I seem to be stuck at around two-thirds of it and can't get round to finishing it (not given up yet...). In the meantime, I came across Eco's last novel - Numero Zero - in its idiomatic English translation (by Richard Dixon) and completed it in a couple of days. At first glance, the novel seems quite close in concept to Foucault's Pendulum. In the latter book, a group of three editors, inspired by their research into the occult, decide to cook up a work which connects the strands between various esoteric theories until fiction seems to take over. The plot of Numero Zero is built around a similar harebrained scheme. We are in 1992 in Milan, at the time of Magistrate Antonio di Pietro's "Mani Pulite" investigation into political corruption and kickbacks. The hapless protagonist, failed writer Colonna, is recruited by one Simei to collaborate on a fledgling newspaper - "Domani". There's a twist though - Domani will never see the light of day. A team of journalists will prepare dummy issues - "number zero" - which will contain just enough innuendo and gossip to worry certain high-ranking individuals. The newspaper's financier - the mysterious "Commendatore" - plans to agree to "withdraw" the venture in return for entry to the Italian political inner sanctum. Trouble starts brewing when one of the journalists - Braggadocio - starts researching a piece on Mussolini, a story close to his heart. Braggadocio believes that Il Duce was not killed in 1945 and that he was spared death as part of a right-wing plot. According to the journalist, most of the "unexplained" episodes in recent Italian history, from Piazza Fontana to the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I are marked by the shadow of Mussolini. It all seems far-fetched, until Braggadocio is murdered and his theories do not seem so unbelievable after all. As in most of his works (and not just his fiction), Eco explores the fine line between truth and falsehood, history and fiction, hence his penchant for drawing literary material from historical and contemporary conspiracies. Unlike in Foucault's Pendulum and, to a lesser extent, The Prague Cemetery, the occult does not feature here. Through the voice of Braggadocio, Eco supplies us instead with an occasionally wearying list of political mysteries, allegations of cover-ups, and copious references to P2, Vatican scandals, politicians and terrorists. It sounds like one of the wilder broadcasts of Italian programme Chi l'ha Visto?. And as with this programme and others of its ilk, a judicious dose of historical fact in Braggadocio's theories make some of the crazier allegations moderately plausible. I can imagine Eco rubbing his hands in glee whilst piling conspiracies on each other.So what is it that distinguishes this novel from others in Eco's oeuvre? For a start, it's lighter and leaner. At under 300 pages and with its snatches of humour and witty dialogue, it's a breeze of a read compared to Eco's earlier tomes, although admittedly there are some harder-going passages. On the other hand, the social satire is delivered less subtly than in other of his works. For "Commendatore" we can easily read "Cavaliere" (Berlusconi) and so we are meant to do. And when Simei embarks on a cynical description of media manipulation, it's as if Eco has taken the microphone. This is by no means Eco's best work, but readers dazzled by "The Name of the Rose" who would like an introduction to his other books could do worse than pick up Numero Zero. At least they're less likely to get stuck halfway through as happened to me with Il Pendolo di Foucault...
  • (4/5)
    Für Ecos Verhältnisse ein sehr kurzer Roman – und letztlich auch ein bisschen unfertig. Nicht im Sinne einer unvollständigen Story, aber es fehlt ein wenig das Leben in den Charakteren, alles wirkt hingeworfen, nicht so meisterhaft verbunden wie in anderen Romanen aus seiner Feder. Muss ein Protagonist seitenlang die Vor- und Nachteile verschiedener Autos aufzählen, trägt das wirklich zur Herausbildung des Charakters bei? Viel, sehr viel weniger davon hätte auch genügt. Die Rahmenhandlung selbst wirkt als sei sie wirklich nur das: Notwendiges Übel, um einerseits eine Verschwörungstheorie über Mussolini (und viele andere) und andererseits große Aversionen gegen die Medien loszuwerden. Kaum Tiefgang, eher flache Charaktere. Trotzdem ist das ein Eco. Ein schwacher Eco, aber trotzdem besser als vieles, was seine Kollegen produzieren. Er kann faszinieren, und das tut er auch hier, mit vielen Details und großer Liebe zu einer gewissen Verschrobenheit. Eco hat wahrlich Besseres produziert, trotzdem ist dieses Buch keine Zeitverschwendung. Nicht unbedingt eine Empfehlung, aber meiden muss man es auch nicht gerade.
  • (3/5)
    Six-word review: Eccentric satire of manipulative journalistic practices.Extended review:I hardly know what to say about this last work of the late author, who died two days after I finished reading it. It isn't really a novel. In a way it reminds me of some sacred texts of various religions: a little bit of story to provide context--and pretext--and then long, long speeches on matters of supposedly great pith and moment. Setting the sermon or the polemic within a narrative framework makes it more palatable, I suppose, and also allows the author to remain at one remove from the content; perhaps to ascribe it to a greater authority than his own, or else just to make it plausibly deniable.The fictional situation, in barest terms, is that a group of journalists of somewhat dubious repute are hired to put together back-dated issues of a newspaper that will never be published. It will exist only to make certain prospective readers uncomfortable, for purposes of influencing them. The first-person narrator is engaged to chronicle the project. The absurdity of the premise seems to be irrelevant to the development of the story.Let me acknowledge candidly that the book seems to require a lot more prior knowledge than I bring to it: an awareness of Italian history, politics, and culture that I simply don't have. As I went on, I saw this as a disadvantage because I don't have a way to think about most of the events that Eco writes about, other than what I've gleaned from more or less random readings about Fascist Italy in the first half of the last century. Most of what I know about Europe in World War II has had a more northerly focus.But this deficiency may be an illusion. On reflection, I'm not sure it matters because the little joke he's pulling on us would, I think, work just as well using any potentially controversial historical event that could appear different in the light of later discoveries. The art of retroactive prognostication seems to be a rather specialized undertaking.What's of primary interest here, then, is the exposure of journalistic conjuring tricks that might well be working in anything we read, and especially in any medium that delivers news to the public. I had prior acquaintance with some of them and have even used one or two of them myself (although, I hasten to add, not to con or deceive) in the course of editing several newsletters over a period of years. But I have never seen them presented quite so baldly or cynically. For example, one of the writers questions the overuse of exaggerated language. The narrator replies:"No," I said, "these are precisely the expressions readers expect, that's what newspapers have accustomed them to. Readers understand what's going on only if you tell them we're in a no-go situation, the government is forecasting blood and tears, the road is all uphill..." (page 83)There follow two pages of clichés, which lead directly into a discussion of the effects of governments' and institutions' apologizing for something, and how it plays in the press.How to foster suspicion, how to create innuendo, how to intimidate public figures, and other functions of newspapers are neatly revealed through candid dialogue among the staff.These particulars are potentially both entertaining and enlightening. Most of us know better than to trust the news media very far, but we may have wondered how to recognize the ways in which we're being manipulated. This book might make us a little bit sharper.I found the whole secondary narrative, however, tedious and stifling. The wall-to-wall monologues that go on for pages with scarcely a paragraph break, as one character reports to another the results of his exhaustive investigation into the death of Mussolini, seem almost like a literary shaggy-dog story. Was this all an elaborate setup for what I took to be an author's prank disguised as philosophy and political history? Or did I just miss the point entirely?I honestly don't know. And maybe I'll be embarrassed once I read what others have written about this book. (I don't look before posting my own comments.) But that, at any rate, is how it appears to me. And so I have to say truthfully that I'm insufficiently impressed. A waffly rating of three stars is the best I can do.
  • (3/5)
    Should I consider it a coincidence or a conspiracy that I finished this book on the same day the new X-Files series started. It felt like I had conspiracy theorists up to my chin!Colonna is a writer who starts to work for a new newspaper called Domani. The idea of the publisher is to print yesterday's news with yesterday's date today so that everyone would think the paper foretold the future. No conspiracy there!Most of the book is Colonna's boss going on and on about what really happened with Mussolini and Pope Paul I. Nothing that was reported is true. Everything is a big government conspiracy. Etc. Etc. Etc. No idea was too remote or utterly stupid to be considered truth. The only thing they knew was that what had been reported was not truth.The narrator reminded me of George Carlin with his gravelly and cynical tone. It was pretty much the same for every speaker except for when he was the voice for Colonna's girlfriend. And my opinion of George Carlin is that he is great - in small amounts at a time.This might appeal to someone with more background in Italian history than me.
  • (4/5)
    The latest novel by Eco (and his death a little while after I read it made it also his last) consists of two narratives - separated by decades but still managing to weave around each other. In the present (which Eco sets at the early 1990s), a newspaper editor is contracted to create a new newspaper. But it is an unusual paper - instead of publishing real test issues, they are instructed to publish the yesterday's news, with yesterday's date - as if they were writing at the day the news happened but the knowledge and the understanding of the day after that. As can be expected, this allows them to print things that noone had never had a chance to - foreknowledge is important. Noone will ever really publish those issues and it is not very clear why they are done this way - the editor may have an idea, his team is really in the dark. And when bad things start happening, an old story emerges - the story of Mussolini and the end of the war; a story that may or may not have been. I do not know enough about Italian history to know how much of that story is true and how much is invented by Eco (or other authors) but the story reads as one that could have been, maybe even one that had been. The story in the 90s is an exploration of the power of news and responsibility of the press. Setting it at these time allows the research and the printing to be based on the old technologies; it also makes sure that there are no blogs and internet sites that publish when the news break - after all this is as close as we are getting to the news written from the future. If you look at this this way, one wonders if this is not what Eco was planning altogether - putting the story in the 90s makes a bit more sense. But it still does not fully succeed - it gets too long and almost boring at places. The Italy of the 90s is coming alive in the text and that helps - but it still is a bit too thin.On the other hand, the past story is fascinating and for me, that story makes the whole book worth reading. I suspect that I will be revisiting this book in the future - it may not have as many layers as some of his earlier ones but I have a suspicion that I missed some of the ones that are in the book. I would not recommend that as the first Eco book to read but if you enjoy his style, it is a decent addition to his works.
  • (3/5)
    An interesting conspiracy story.
    Was Mussolini executed or was he spirited away.
    I prefer "The Name of the Rose", but this is OK.
    I was given a digital copy by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest unbiased review.
  • (3/5)
    This spin on Italian political history of the post-WWII years is probably targeted to Italians. Eco offers long disquisitions about events that make better sense to those who lived them, than to outside readers to whom this is all strange and unfamiliar. As far as I can tell the major thrust of the story--spies, secret organizations, political intrigues--is based on actual events. For example, there was indeed a 1992 BBC documentary on Operation Gladio. Around the story of Mussolini's possible survival Eco includes a rich if long background story of a fake newspaper. Some of the dialogue is more monologue, with long strings of facts or random opinions and observations. The overall effect is interesting, but in truth these casual and ultimately pointless conversations overshadow the dramatic sequences that are intended to drive the action forward.
  • (2/5)
    I am posting only to fulfill an obligation to the Early Review program of LT. While I enjoyed The Year of the Rose long ago when I read it, I have never been able to finish any of Eco's subsequent works, and this one is no exception. I could not understand the premise, couldn't warm to the characters, and found the story line and setting flat, uninspiring and sadly, not worth my time. I have donated the audio book to my local library hoping that someone else will decide it is worthy of reading. Not for me.