The island of the day before

by Umberto Eco

Other authorsWilliam Weaver (Translator)
Paperback, 1996




New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Penguin Books, 1996.


A 17th Century Italian knight recounts his adventures during a siege in the Thirty Years' War and afterwards in naval espionage against the British. In between, he describes the salons of Paris, lessons in fencing and reasons of state, and gives his thoughts on writing love letters and on blasphemy.

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LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
"I challenge anyone to find himself abandoned on a deserted ship, between sea and sky in a vast space, and not be ready to dream that in his great misfortune he at least has had the good fortune to stumble into the heart of time" (273).

The Island of the Day Before is a fantasy about fantasy, with a
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documentary conceit and no genuinely supernatural elements. Some details of the seventeenth-century science may now seem rather occult, but the essential metaphysics of the entire tale are very much of our world. It is a tale about a quest for the secret of determining longitude, and it seeks to celebrate the mystery of the antipodes in the paradoxes of an international date line.

Although this story was set a century earlier, I found it rather reminiscent of Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon. Both are big beefy novels written in the waning of the 20th century, and concerned with the exploratory push of European powers (in early modernity and the Enlightenment, respectively), as well as the relationships between objective and subjective worlds. But their titles show the biggest difference between the books. Mason & Dixon has two protagonists, and the surfeit of plot (to be expected from Pynchon) concerns their relationships to each other and their world. The insular Eco novel is instead nearly solipsistic in the extent to which characters other than the protagonist Roberto are practically reduced to figments of his imagination--the plot, such as it is, is largely in his reminiscences, dreams, and eventually, composed fictions.

The book is a long one, with many short chapters, and the slow pace of the plotting makes it easy to pick up and to put down. It took me more than a month to read it through. My two favorite chapters in the book could each stand on their own, and with particular reference to my occult interests. Chapter 26, "Delights for the Ingenious: A Collection of Emblems" is a long meditation on the symbolism of doves. Chapter 37, "Paradoxical Exercises Regarding the Thinking of Stones," is a contemplative demonstration of getting stoned in line with the discussion "On the Final Will" in Liber Aleph vel CXI.

The metafictional elements are pronounced in this novel, where the principal character himself ends up writing a "romance," in which his imagined half-brother and rival becomes his alter-ego. Eco makes both the opening and the closing of the book rather disorienting and unconventional, as part of his reflection on the composition of imaginative literature, and he uses the premise of working from a discovered three-hundred-year-old manuscript both to assert and to undermine the credibility of his story.
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LibraryThing member Larou
The Island of the Day Before is by content, form and intention a historical novels, and yet is is quite different from most (or possibly any) historical novels you might have read. From Walter Scott’s Waverly onwards, historical fiction has aimed to either give a close-up view of important
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historical events and personalities, or else to paint a vivid picture of what life in a certain period was like, to bring the past back to life in the reader’s imagination. (Note: I’m aware that this is a simplification, but I think you’ll find that the vast majority of historical fiction – which is, after all, a very popular genre – can be subsumed under one of those two main categories.) Eco’s novel, on the other hand, does something quite different instead; it does not attempt to depict the life in his chosen period (roughly the middle of the seventeenth century), does not really concern itself much with its physical reality at all, but instead describes the period’s ideas, or more precisely, the way those ideas structured and ordered the worldview of its contemporaries.

This might be seen as a continuation of the debate with the early work of Michel Foucault that was central to Eco’s previous novel, Foucault’s Pendulum (and, yes, I’m aware that the Foucault referenced in that title is not the 20th-century French philosopher… except that, in a way, he is). It would certainly be possible to argue that The Island of the Day Before aims for a description of the Baroque épisteme (not unlike Peter Greenaway’s movie The Draughtsman’s Contract, to which Eco’s novel indeed does bear some similarities), although I personally feel more inclined to see the influence of Hans Blumenberg at work here, in particularly the short but utterly brilliant and eminently read-worthy Shipwreck with Spectator.

It’s not quite correct to say that The Island of the Before describes a certain historical view of the world, though - that is what Foucault and Blumenberg did, being philosophers. Eco, being a novelist (or at least wearing his novelist’s hat here, although Eco the semiologist definitely has the occasional cameo appearance), rather embodies it: The Island of the Day Before is just the kind of huge, sprawling, colourful, digressive, funny, erudite monster of a narrative that Baroque authors (and, one assumes, readers) so loved. In contrast to Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, Eco does not attempt to get at the heart of what the period was about by way of (more or less) realistic mimesitic narrative, by basically writing a 19th-century novel about the 17th century, but by having his novel become a 17th novel instead (which is, of course, and quite ironically, very much a 20th century maneuvre), and indeed suceeds where Stephenson fails.

This is not a novel of surprising plots twists, then (although what plot there is does twist quite a bit, and there are some surprises along the way, too), nor a novel of deep characterisation (although it is populated by some rather fascinating characters), nor a novel of lavish descriptions (although – as much as I was able to judge this, reading a translation – the prose seems quite wonderful, moving with ease between a drier, reticient style and the exuberance of Baroque pastiche), but it is first and foremost a novel of ideas, and is likely to appeal most to readers who are intellectually curious, who like to be served some cerebral meat to sink their mind’s teeth into (my apologies for the metaphor) and enjoy exploring concepts, following them down to their last ramifications. Or else academics.

Thomas Mann, the undisputed master of the novel of ideas, is indeed another huge influence here; Roberto reminded me more than once of Hans Castorp, the siege of Casale reads almost like a Baroque version of the Zauberberg, including its own versions of Naphta and Settembrini, and Wanderdrossel’d dialogue sounds (at least in the German translation) uncannily like the devil in Doktor Faustus. All this juggling of influences and proliferation of references (of which I have barely scratched the surface here) is by no means gratuitous but is very distintive for the literature of the period that prided itself on its erudition (while today’s authors, one often feels, tend to be rather embarrassed by it, unless it is pop culture they are referencing to).

All of this might give one the impression that The Island of the Day Before is basically a faux-Baroque novel, a mere pastiche of period literature, but that would very misleading. True, there is a Baroque novel at the hear of Eco’s – but the reader gets to see it only in brief glimpses. Because the book does not present us with Roberto’s chronicle of events, but instead with a chronicle of that chronicle, done by a narrator who is probably the most fascinating and enigmatic character to appear here. I found it very hard to place him in a definite period – while there is never a doubt that he is to be situated some time after Roberto, it never becomes quite clear as to how much afterwards. Early in the novel, the narrator analyses Roberto’s character in terms of the Four Temperaments and their associated humours which would lead one to believe that he must be almost contemporary with Roberto. But near the novel’s end, he mentions Hollywood, which would place him in the 20th century at the earliest. This is never explicitely resolved, and it is left to the reader to make sense of it; my own theory is that the narrator actually evolves during the course of the novel and is not the same at the end as he was at the beginning, and that this development is accompanied by that of the narrative strategies he employs and which seem to increasingly take a turn towards the modern as the novel progresses. But there are doubtlessly other explanations for this, and maybe I just imagined something which is not really there at all…
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LibraryThing member WaxPoetic
This book has been on my shelf for a very long time, and while I couldn't quite get into it, I also couldn't get rid of it - waiting for that elusive 'Someday' to read it. When I first learned of Do Nothing but Read Day at The Green Dragon, I decided that this would be the book for that day.
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Fortunately, I planned to take two days. And I used both of them.

It is not a rollicking adventure in the vein of Baudolino or a mystery as In The Name of the Rose. The physical adventure of being shipwrecked on an anchored ship is mitigated by the total indolence of the protagonist. He is entirely self-centered and while not unintelligent, disinclined to keep his thoughts at any matter at hand. It's a fantastic conceit, as it leaves scads of room for the narrator of the story room to ponder, to consider, to teach and to be confused.

It is the brilliance of Umberto Eco (and his translator, William Weaver) that allow the joy of language to carry the story that isn't even really a story through every one of its movements and mini-treatises on intellectual trends. It is something that intrigues me - how content Eco seems to be to explore the thought of different ages fully and completely in his novels, choosing adventures that are entirely plausible (though rarely probably) in the time of the story.

This is not a book that will appeal to every reader. Even those who enjoy long books may not enjoy this book, as it is not only lengthy but incredibly dense - it is joyful density, but that does not make it any easier to read. I think I read it too quickly, but now that I've read it, I am happy to read through it in pieces again and again.
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LibraryThing member tronella
I discovered Eco's books when Dad picked up a copy of Foucault's Pendulum at a jumble sale because the cover looked interesting, and now I'm hooked. As always with his books (in my experience) it took a while to get into it - for some reason I always end up reading them incredibly slowly, although
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with Foucault's Pendulum that was at least partly because a large amount of it wasn't in English. But it was worth the effort.

The initial setup is that the protagonist, Roberto, is trapped on a wrecked ship a mile from an island surrounded by a coral reef inhabited by poisonous fish, and he can't swim, and the book is supposed to be a sort of biography (although with a lot of artistic licence), based on the letters he wrote to the woman he loved while trapped there.

I can't say I enjoyed it as much as Foucault's Pendulum, or The Name Of The Rose - it was a bit slower, since the setting didn't allow for much action, and it wasn't really to my taste. But there was a lot of... historical background, and things about the science of the age (17th century) which was interesting.

The ending seemed a bit strange, at first. But in retrospect, I think that any other ending would have been disappointing.
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LibraryThing member bragan
In the mid-1600s, a shipwrecked man fetches up not on land, but on another, strangely derelict ship in sight of an island he cannot reach because he can't swim and has no boat. Although that description gives you absolutely no idea what this book is about. Because mostly it's about long, rambling
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philosophical discussions on theology, time, navigation, love, sympathetic magic, and, above all, the nature of the universe. What is the world made of? Is there such a thing as empty space? How do the planets move? Are there other worlds than this?

I'm afraid that kind of makes it sound more interesting than it is, though. There's an odd feeling of pointlessness about much of it, for me, because these issues are all addressed from a 17th-century perspective -- well, more or less -- and so the cosmological and scientific ideas are mostly wrong, or at best only vaguely right. Of course, a look at how people thought about such things in the past is interesting in itself, or can be, but long, long discussions like the ones here don't work so well in the service of a novel; after a while they start to get tedious. On the other hand, since this isn't a textbook on the evolution of natural philosophy, but rather mixes its science, history, and philosophy in with fanciful ideas, anachronisms, and metaphors, its use in educating the reader is limited, too. One might certainly come away from it having been exposed to new ideas (or rather, to very old ones), but not necessarily with a very good understanding of those ideas and their historical context.

And, in my case, there wasn't a lot that was unfamiliar and exciting to me, anyway. There were times when I couldn't help conjuring up the mental image of Umberto Eco sitting in a college dorm in a haze of pot smoke going, "Did I just blow your miiiiind?" Which, well, no, Umberto. No, you really kind of didn't.

Which is too bad, because a lot of what he's doing here, otherwise, is actually very clever, featuring different layers of narrative that are tangled up in a really nifty way. I think he's also doing some good stuff with language, although, sadly, I fear that inevitably a lot of that gets lost in translation.

Rating: 3/5, but I have to admit that's basically me giving it an "E for Effort."
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LibraryThing member john257hopper
I have decided I really I do not get on with Eco (apart from Name of the Rose). As usual, beautifully written, but it just doesn't get anywhere. If I want historical, philosophical or scientific debate, I will generally read non-fiction for it. Given up c. p100, no rating.
LibraryThing member sharonlflynn
I found this a really tough read. Some parts were interesting, but overall, for me, it dragged.
I am so relieved that I made it through to the end - though it took me about 3 months to do so.
Maybe I'll try reading it again in the future with more success. Maybe it was just a really bad time for me.
LibraryThing member arjacobson
Umberto Eco was born January 5, 1932 and is a Knight Grand Cross of the Italian Republic. He is the founder of the Dipartimento di Comunicazione at the University of San Marino, an Honorary Fellow of Kellogg College at the University of Oxford, and is best known for his novels The Name of the Rose
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and The Prague Cemetery. He is also President of the Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici at the University of Bologna, and a member of the Accademia dei Lincei. In addition to fiction, he has also written both academic texts on literary theory and children's books.

William Weaver is best known for his translations of Umberto Eco and Italio Calvino. He has been translating Italian authors for over fifty years. He also works as a critic and commentator for the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. Weaver was a professor at Bard College in New York, and was a Bard Center Fellow. He holds honorary degrees from the University of Leicester in the UK, and Trinity College in addition to his postgraduate study at the University of Rome, and his B.A. from Princeton University. He has several original works mainly revolving around the librettos of Verdi and Puccini.


Disclaimer! My brain hurts, and I will admit that it took me a bit to get interested in The Island of the Day Before. However, after I realized that my constant companion while reading this book would be a dictionary, the book became much more intriguing. The problem, truthfully, is that not only is the writing very deep and complex, but it is also originally in Italian. So, the English translation is a little hard to grasp at times. In addition, the novel isn’t really what I thought it would be: an adventure to an island of the day before, as the title implies. Rather, it is more of a philosophical introspection.

Reading a Journal

The Island of the Day Before is Eco’s third novel, and focuses on a 17th century Italian nobleman, Roberto della Griva, who is the sole survivor of a terrible stormy gale. He becomes marooned on an island, and can see an island that is in the distance which he is convinced is on the other side of the International Date Line. Roberto wants to visit it, as he believes going to the island will fix all his woes. But, he is deathly afraid to swim to it.

Shipwrecked and swept from his ship, the Amaryllis, he manages to pull himself aboard the fully provisioned ship Daphne, anchored in the bay of a beautiful island. Della Griva goes through a series of flashbacks of a metacognitive nature. The ship is eerily quiet, as if the entire crew fled some terrible specter. We, the reader, get to view Roberto’s journey through the eyes of a modern narrator who has found della Griva’s journal on board the derelict ship. Through the narrator’s eyes, we see Roberto as he questions truth, reality, and the overall meaning of life.

“From the way he recalls it on the Daphne, I tend to believe that at Casale, while he lost both his father and himself in a war of too many meanings and of no meaning at all, Roberto learned to see the universal world as a fragile tissue of enigmas, beyond which there was no longer an Author; or if there was, He seemed lost in the remaking of Himself from too many perspectives. If there Roberto had sensed a world now without any center, made up only of perimeters, here he felt himself truly in the most extreme and most lost of peripheries, because, if there was a center, it lay before him, and he was its immobile satellite” (145-146).

We can also hear of loves lost through some guile on the part of another,

“Oh Love, Love, Love, have you not punished me enough already, is this not a death undying?” (385).

The loss of love is merely one of the finer points of life that Eco gets to discuss through this novel, and he talks about it in a truly poetic way. Love can punish more than a simple death, as it is an ongoing process. Death is but once; the loss of a love is revisited time and time again in painful agony.


Umberto Eco is a big fan of semiotics – the study of signs in language. Eco seems particularly fond of the specific part of semiotics called pragmatics, the study of signs and the effects they have on the people who use them. Eco even takes the liberty within his novel to educate the reader on semiotics. He talks to the reader directly about the plot, not as the narrator, but instead as Umberto Eco himself.

“So we may assume that gradually, perhaps through the therapeutic action of that balmy air or that sea water, Robert was cured of a complaint that, real or imagined, had turned him into a lycanthrope for more than ten months (unless the reader chooses to insinuate that because from now on I need him on deck full-time, and finding no contradiction among his papers, I am freeing him from all illness, with authorial arrogance)” (280).

A Work in a Work

Eco seems to love blurring his fictional writing with a dialogue in reality as well. While extremely confusing at the time, his references to other works of fiction are rather refreshing. And, of course, what better fiction to reference than his own, such as the notes of Adso of Melk from The Name of the Rose (played by Christian Slater in the movie version of the novel)?

“For the captain it was obvious that the books, having belonged to a plague victim, were agents of infection. The plague is transmitted, as everyone knows, through venenific unguents, and he had read of people who died by wetting a finger with saliva as they leafed through works whose pages had in fact been smeared with a poison” (248).

For those that don’t know, in The Name of the Rose, the pages of a journal were poisoned, so that those who read it, and turn the pages by licking their fingers are killed. The canadian rock group Arcade Fire even references the famed passage in the song Neon Bible.

"Take the poison of your age / Don't lick your fingers when you turn the page"

I also found references to The Man in the Iron Mask and The Three Musketeers in the novel. It certainly seems like Eco wants to educate the reader in general works of fiction as he writes.

Space, Time, and Beauty

One of the larger themes in the novel is the concept of time. Is time able to be manipulated, or is it constant? Can one travel to the day before? Roberto is convinced that his troubles will end if only he could travel to the day before. He would no longer find himself marooned, and would no longer be forced to boringly reminisce about his past life. But, the island in the distance seemingly moves farther away from him.

“Indeed, as he sees it distant not only in space but also (backwards) in time, from this moment on, whenever he mentions that distance, Roberto seems to confuse space and time, and he writes, ‘The bay, alas, is too yesterday,’ and ,’How much sea separates me from the day barely ended,’ and even, ‘Threatening rainclouds are coming from the Island, whereas today it is already clear . . . . But if the Island moves ever farther away, is it still worth the effort to learn to reach it?’” (362).

This quote encapsulates for me the beauty of this novel. While there is much to be discussed in the way of academia, semiotics, and the like, his poetic writing is what makes the novel simply great to read. Eco blends his poetic hand with some terribly mind-bending concepts. The Island of the Day Before is truly beautifully written, and Eco’s expert prose makes it fly off the page. The tome is incredibly thought provoking and it forces the reader to think about the finer things in life.

Although The Island of the Day Before is hard to read, if you have some resilience and a dictionary, I strongly recommend you read it.

Originally Posted At:
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LibraryThing member jilyna
An interesting premise, the plot of which has drowned in a sea of exquisite words.
LibraryThing member cjyurkanin
Okay. Finished another Eco book. Unsatisfied, again. Brilliant and beautiful writer that takes you in circle after circle after circle after circle until you arrive finally at - nowhere. I did not find it difficult to read as many reviewers have mentioned (except sometimes the broken and halting
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German/English that the Jesuit spoke) nor did I find problems in the translation from the original Italian. Eco writes masterfully. As I've mentioned in a previous Eco review, if you have hours upon hours to spend simply to be taken away into a world of words and ideas without any expectation of "resolution" then Eco is the writer for you. I understand "The Name of the Rose" is good but I can't imagine offering myself up to Eco again. I'd probably find more gain simply browsing a thesaurus as a thesaurus provides more "closure" to its tale. After 1,200 pages, I am cured of Eco.
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LibraryThing member literarysarah
Not suspenseful like The Name of the Rose or rewardingly complex like Focault's Pendulum, this book never really hooked me. For one thing, the characters spend far too much time debating the relative positions and trajectories of the earth and the sun. At least Umberto Eco never writes the same
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book twice.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
A little slow for me.
LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
I enjoyed reading this book, it wasn't as gripping as Foucault's Pendulum, so I read it a more relaxed pace, it'll definitely be a good one to languish with if you're in that kind of mood. It has similar themes in that it deals with History and Philosophy, and involves traveling, but is perhaps a
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little less ambitious. I think he deals with the Philosophical themes well, though I can understand the criticism that they sometimes feel out of place, such as the multiple universe theory being dealt with in a 16th century setting, though the rest of it seems more or less natural, especially some of the out of date scientific theories and though that was prevalent at the time being woven into the story. The characters seem plausible, and the world is described well, and you get a good well detailed picture of the story he is telling from the view of the protagonist. You can understand what he is feeling, why he makes the choices he does, and can imagine yourself in the plot. If you are after a good escapist book to sit around reading on a lazy afternoon, then this might be one to try. I am definitely becoming a fan of this author, and will seek out more of his books. This is different to Foucault's pendulum, and I can't decide if it is different in a bad way or a good way, perhaps it is just indifferently different. I know I enjoyed reading it, but I don't know really who I can specifically say that you will enjoy this to, aside from fans of historical adventures, and of course Eco fans.
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LibraryThing member mrafael
loved the anachronistic head space shifting
LibraryThing member pmtracy
This book is translated from the Italian title of L'isola del giorno prima. I bought this on a whim at an eclectic bookstore called the Tattered Cover in Denver, CO. I had read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco when I was in high school but I hadn’t picked up any of his other works since.

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this book, the main character, Roberto, must deal with his mysterious stranding on a ship that is tantalizingly close to an island offering refuge. Unfortunately, Roberto can’t swim. The author’s juxtaposition of real life events with the fantastical period on the ship adds a dream-like quality to a great portion of the story.

Large parts of the book attempt to explain Roberto’s situation through a series of flashbacks relating his role in the battles of Casale, the loss of his father, his unrequited love for Lilia and his suspicion of an imaginary evil brother he names Ferrante. Towards the end of the book, Roberto attempts to provide solace to himself in writing a novel explaining how Ferrante lead to his demise through attempts to steal Lilia and ruin him politically. Roberto received a serious head wound during the war. This injury combined with his confusion between space and time, his paranoid schizophrenic behavior during his time on the ship and his inability to separate reality from fantasy leads the reader to believe the main character suffered from a serious mental illness.

The book is also a treatise on topics that were popular during the Age of Reason including: astronomy, navigation, cartography, medicine, mechanics and the scientific method. These descriptions, such as the dissertation on the difficulty in calculating longitude and its importance in navigation, receive numerous paragraphs of intricate details. Roberto also entwines the poetic. For example, his lengthy narrative regarding time includes a passage about clocks that reads, in part, “those cogged wheels that shredded the day into bits of instants and consumed life in a music of death.” While the information doesn’t further the story, it adds to the overall lushness and fabric of detail that makes this book interesting.

The title of the book arises from the conflict between the science of navigation and how we define “time.” Should Roberto be able to swim from the ship on which he is stranded to the nearby island, he would cross the International Date Line and we would essentially arrive at the island the “day before.” The book ends with Roberto’s final attempt to reach that island with no mention to his achievement of that goal.
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LibraryThing member lewispike
Back to being too overwritten for me. I don't really remember this one too clearly, I do remember being underwhelmed.
LibraryThing member lkernagh
I take pride withal in my humiliation, and as I am to this privilege condemned, almost I find joy in an abhorrent salvbation; I am, I believe, alone of all our race, the only man in human memory to have been shipwrecked and cast up upon a deserted ship. So begins Eco fanciful tale set in the 17th
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century Baroque era of an Italian nobleman, Roberto della Griva, marooned on a deserted ship in the Pacific Ocean. We learn how he came to the situation he finds himself in but more importantly, we witness Roberto's numerous ruminations on pretty much everything from religion, cosmology, metaphysics to science and technology of the Baroque period as well as his mental condition as a ship wreck survivor. The story is fascinating on a number of levels. I loved the examination of science and the race to discover the Punto Fijo or fixed point from which all other longitudes could be established. Roberto as a character and his mental state are also fascinating reading as is the multiple allusions to Alexandre Dumas' stories [The Three Muskeeters] and [The Man in the Iron Mask]. The sections at the start of the story with the siege of Casale had me hoping for a rollicking adventure read. Unfortunately, the story is really an adventure story of a completely different nature. Still good, but not as entertaining as I was looking forward to reading. The downside of this story for me was what I found to be an excessive waxing philosophical/metaphysical nature of the story. This is not a quick read by any means and the overloading of information reminded me a bit of my experience in reading Roberto Bolaño's [2666], another book filled with references and hidden meanings that went right over my head.

Now, I hope this review doesn't deter anyone from picking up and reading The Island of the Day Before for themselves. I am just not a big fan of the ship-wrecked man type of story that this one is and is something I need to be in the right frame of mind for. The metaphysical aspects of the story, while fascinating at first, became a bit of a laborious chore to get through and reached a level of eye rolling obscurity when Roberto examines whether or not a stone can feel or has any form of sentient thought. Even with these negatives, the story was not enough of a chore to deter me from wanting to retain my copy for a potential re-read at some point in the future. As you have probably guessed, this isn't exactly an easy book for me to write a review for.
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LibraryThing member Czrbr
Book Description: New York, N. Y. , U. S. A.: Penguin Books, 1996. eng. First printing. (pbk. ) 514 p. ; 22 cm. Fine. No dust jacket, as issued. Unblemished, unread, new paperback. Translated from the Italian by William Weaver
LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
Mesmerizing in scope and intensity. One of the best Eco books I've read yet.
LibraryThing member kakadoo202
Fantastic and creative. Beautifully written. Some parts are a bit slow but it is worth to get through them.
LibraryThing member Cecrow
Sparse on plot, this novel largely serves as a vehicle for ideas and discourse while Umberto Eco shares his astute knowledge of 17th century history philosophy, religion and science. Much of the early portion takes place in Montferrat, a province of northern Italy where the author resided and that
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is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Continuing the story, it had me looking up information about Pacific explorers and the puzzle of longitude, Cardinal Richelieu, the Italian province of Piedmont, and numerous other trivia. His oft-used theme about truth versus fiction crops up again throughout, alongside seemingly everything else he has on his mind.

I was enjoying the framing story approach through its opening chapters, but I was in for a surprise halfway through when the backstory caught up with the present and many circumstantial mysteries were quickly dispensed with. This robbed the novel of its direction and the last hundred pages or so are almost aimless, bogged down by philosophical meandering which might be read as encroaching madness, ending on a somewhat unsatisfactory note that invites additional philosophical meandering on my own time beyond the final page. With little forward momentum and much reflection, this is a novel probably best read alongside something else and consumed in small morsels so as to not give way to impatience with Eco's playfulness. Not among his best, but not terrible if you have an appreciation for this author.
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
I read this one in the late 90s, bought a copy for my best friend shortly thereafter. I saw Ray Rizzo with a copy one evening at Ramsi's, I told him I enjoyed it and replied that he was eager for the challenge. He later played with Days of the New. Oh, those 90s! It was all optimism and challenges
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were there. Hubris was our cocktail. Our survival surprises me when I consider such. I should reread this ribald novel quite soon.
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LibraryThing member charlie68
I gave this one 4 stars because it really is a mind expanding read. A work of fiction within a work of fiction. Lots of digressions on philosophy and other things.
LibraryThing member booktsunami
What a curious, maddening book. Certainly a great example of creative writing and, it seems to me, a brilliant piece of translating by William Weaver. It seems like Eco has used this book as a way to demonstrate his erudition ....and he does this remarkably well. What is the plot? Well it's
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certainly purports to be the work of somebody who came across an ancient manuscript dating back to the mid 1600's. And the original author of the manuscript was ostensibly keeping something like a diary of his enough of his background and history to make a decent story: Born in Italy to minor nobility, involved in the siege of Casale where his father died, thence to paris were he become involved in intellectual and subversive circles, arrested by Cardinal Richelieu for his apparent knowledge of the "powder of sympathy" and sent on a secret mission to elucidate what the English are up to (in terms of measuring longitude using this powder). Shipwrecked and washed up on the 180degree of longitude to a deserted ship......a ship with a room of clocks and a hold full of birds....and a rather maniacal Jesuit Priest who is pursuing the secret of longitude with the "specula melitensis". Because they are (according to the priest) on the meridian line the island to the left is the day before and to the right it is one can go back in time!!
The island of he day before holds both the specula melitensis and a spectacular orange dove and the long boat from the deserted ship......Roberto, the author of the manuscript, and the priest being unable to swim.....the island is unattainable ...but they try in many different ways to get to it. Overlaying this narrative is a second story arising from Roberto's imagined evil twin, Ferrante, who is hell bent on destroying Roberto....and an unattainable love for Lilia in Paris. To rid himself of this imaginary evil twin, Roberto writes a story wherein Ferrante impersonates him in Paris, wins Lilia, and escapes on a twin ship to the Daphne on which Roberto is marooned. Eventually, Ferrante comes to a satisfyingly, unpleasant end. But woven into this dual tale there is speculation about; the various ways of determining latitude, whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, the use of the powder of sympathy to cure wounds, then nature of time, Various medieval inventions for walking or working underwater, The nature of doves and the realm of hell...and the psychological torment and nature of jealousy of the absent lover. Eco can captivate with his writing: for example on describing the sight of coral for the first time: "He was above a garden, no, he was mistaken, now it seemed a petrified forest, and at the next moment there were mounds, folds, shores, gaps and grottoes, a single slope of living stones on which a vegetation not of this earth was composed in squat forms, or round, or scaly, that seemed to wear a granulated coat of mail, or else gnarled, or else coiled,. But, different as they were, they were all stupendous in their grace and loveliness, to such a degree that even those worked with feigned negligence, roughly shaped, displayed their roughness with majesty; they were monsters, true but monsters of beauty......
Cypress-polyps, which in their vermicular writhing revealed the rosy colour of a great central lip, stroked plantations of albino phalli with amaranth glandes; pink minnows dotted with olive grazed ashen cauliflowers sprayed with scarlet, striped tubers of blackening copper....And he could see the saffron liver of a great animal, or else an artificial fire of mercury arabesques, wisps of thorns dripping sanguine and finally a kind of chalice of flaccid mother of pearl......."
Sometimes this erudition becomes a bit "over the top" he really just showing off ....or over-working his thesaurus? But whenever I went to cross check on some obscure word or reference ...they all fitted. Sometimes...I found myself getting a bit bored but he deftly swings between the various narratives to maintain the interest despite some rather wordy passages.
One thing fascinated me and that was the medieval reasoning for such things as the rotation of the planets, and what happened to the water after Noah's flood? And the importance of "devices" (such as those used on flags).
But I've always enjoyed Eco's books and this one is no exception. Five stars from me.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
Probably my least favorite Eco novel.


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