Book Review: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

December 22, 2007
Dr Krishnan

Giambattista Bodoni a.k.a. Yambo loses his memory in a cerebrovascular accident before the commencement of The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. This fifth novel by Umberto Eco is an attempt to reclaim his memory.

The means to achieve this are unorthodox to say the least--- rereading almost sixty years of literary intake.The retrieval is labored, painful, and oftentimes boring, the author takes up this task manfully and produces a bravura performance. From an Indian vedantin point of view one could postulate coils and coils of ephemeral Maya melting away like gossamer from a deep core of the Atman'. But Eco is a rational debunker all psychological and religious concepts.

One has to read his Foucault's Pendulum and one would understand this perspective of the author. Be that as it may , this book has its intellectual attractions. The literary and aesthetic influences which create a great thinker's mental architecture will always fascinate. It ranges from Phantom comics to Dante and Flash Gordon to Conan Doyle.

Somewhere near the middle the narrative sags. Factoid piled on factoid ad infuntum palls and the reader has to force himself to concentrate. This is somewhat redeemed by his recollections of boyhood under Mussolini. This is familiar territory for those who know old masters of this dark genre. Eco's version is full of humorous gaffes and very little menace. The Resistance do not come out too nobly either. The evocation of an era when information and entertainment sprang from the radio is wonderful.

This novel could also be Eco's tribute to the graphic novel. Myriad images pepper the narrative. But for an occasional classical gem they are mostly juvenile. An old ad for a Vespa scooter should ring a few Indian bells. The proposition of exploring what constitutes memory is intriguing. Proust explores it exhaustively and with zest. Alas, our present day constraints on time prevent another construction of three thousand pages. Still Eco's erudition is tremendous. Combine this with a love of generally all elements that constitute what loosely could be called Life and you get magic. One expects more from him but is somehow satisfied with less.

eXTReMe Tracker
Keep reading for comments on this article and add some feedback of your own!

Comments! Feedback! Speak and be heard!

Comment on this article or leave feedback for the author

Deepti Lamba
December 22, 2007
10:52 PM

Great Review Doctor Krishnan, I've seen Eco's books in Aaman's vast library, will pick them up and read:)

Dr Krishnan
December 22, 2007
11:26 PM

Thanks for the comment. Should raid that library one of these days.

December 23, 2007
03:10 AM

Anytime, Doc

c. r . sridhar
December 23, 2007
07:06 AM

Excellent review of Umberto's book The Mysterious flame of Queen Loana.

The dominant theme of the book seems to be to the loss of memory and Yambo's attempt to regain it. Though Yambo remembers every book and every line of poetry he has read ( literary memory)he cannot remember the details of his personal life.When Yambo travels down the memory lane there is one strand of personal memory which is dear to his heart:the memory of his first love.The recurrent metaphor in his narrative is the use of word Fog which is same as loss of memory.Thus Yambo has cultural memory but not personal memory which eludes him.

I remember reading another book on loss of memory- a book titled Scar Tissue written by Ignatief. In this book Ignatief explores the ravages of Alzheimer's disease and the shrinking of memory and self.Here the loss of memory is viewed as humilating as one cannot recognise the near and dear ones of the family.

As a quote in Lewis Medical Humanities says'You keep telling me what has been lost, and I keep telling you something remains.' In Yambo's case regaining the lost memory of his first love remains the most poignant quest of his life.

December 23, 2007
12:04 PM

Thanks for reminding me of this book. My favourite bit is when the fascists kill Mickey Mouse - was reminded of it when Hamas's TV channel had Farfour (a take off of MM) killed off by Israeli agents as a reponse to Disney's copyright pressure. Lol!

A recommendation on the topic: Jeffrey Moore's The Memory Artists is a brilliant take on memory, loss/need of it, and identity. Extraordinary narration with medical reports, diaries, flights of imagination. Highly recommended.

December 23, 2007
12:21 PM

this for Sridhar:

might be of interest:

Diane Schaef is in an advanced stage of frontotemporal dementia, commonly known as FTD. It's a degenerative neurological ailment that attacks the brain's frontal and temporal lobes, where personality traits and language control largely reside.

It's a disease, says Dr. Tiffany Chow, that attacks men and women equally and can replace a loved-one with a doppelganger stranger. Unlike Alzheimer's disease - which steals memory yet can leave personality intact for lengthy periods - FTD is a body snatcher.

"So you no longer have a partner helping you run a household and parent children," says Chow, a clinician and scientist with the Baycrest Centre's Rotman Research Institute in Toronto. "You've got another person who is an unknown quantity."
A disease that steals the self - joseph hall

ps: where have you disappeared from the contributors pages?

Dr Krishnan
December 23, 2007
11:08 PM

WoW a veritable neuroconsultation!The manipulation of what constitutes "memory" according to me is the final frontier in medical research not cloning.Imagine a world where noone remembers historical wrongs!

December 24, 2007
11:06 AM

I haven't read the book either, but it's difficult to resist joining in this wide-ranging, genial and indeed, scholarly, exchange. What dragged me in was Doc's very pertinent remark in his comments, a remark that bears repeating -

"Imagine a world where no one remembers historical wrongs!"

I'd say this a theme by itself well worth exploring by the worthies that participate in these columns.

December 25, 2007
06:02 AM

Hey, doc - good point. Worse still, imagine a world where no one remembers historical rights. :-)

Memory is so resonant precisely because it determines who we are - something that Eco doesn't quite manage to access on an emotional level in the book (but thats his style).

December 26, 2007
05:31 AM

Hi Doc, I am yet to get my hand on the book. But the observations of the people who have participated in the discussions very clearly make that the life is nothing but a sheer waste of valuable time for there is a memory loss which leads to forgetting our own "historical wrongs". If we cannot recall what wrong we have done, there is little we can do to live.

Any scholarly exchange of views would hardly provide hope for any happiness leading to carry on living. It is better to make a final exit.

Dr Krishnan
December 26, 2007
07:58 AM

Nothing so nihilistic was suggested.Too close an identification with one's life story prevent deeper truths from surfacing.This makes us go round and round like Skinner's rats.I refer to the behaviourist Skinner.

Add your comment

(Or ping:

Personal attacks are not allowed. Please read our comment policy.

Remember Name/URL?

Please preview your comment!