23 January 2011


Towards the end of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, the hero journeys through the streets of Paris; the streets are named, and with a map, you could follow his route. A reader upbraided Eco for his lack of verisimilitude, for there had been a large fire on the route he had described; why had the hero not seen this? Eco thought that the reader must have researched the Parisian papers for the particular date, to have discovered this, and described readers who look for complete accuracy in books, and check up on such details, as ‘empirical’.
I hadn’t read Foucault’s Pendulum at the time, but have read — tried to read — it now; and got to the end. It’s a very dense book, full of abstruse and arcane detail about secret, mystic societies. A book review suggested that it needed an index — when did you hear of a novel with an index?
I thought that it read more like a textbook, crammed with detail and facts. And as a textbook, the facts can be checked, and perhaps deserve to be checked. So, I wasn’t that surprised to discover that someone had done just that, and found a discrepancy. After all, if you buy a textbook and find a fault, shouldn’t you report this? And Eco’s supposition that the reader had checked the papers is, after all, only a supposition. Perhaps the reader was actually there, or somehow involved.
Now, I don’t go around checking the facts in a novel, unless I see something that seems to be clearly wrong. It might be a typo, or some detail which upsets me, some detail which I know to be wrong (or perhaps, I think I know it’s wrong), and this defect can largely destroy the atmosphere, the realism which the author has tried to build up.
I don’t really set out to be Empirical, it just happens. Perhaps it’s because I’m just too literal, perhaps it’s because I’ve read far too many non-fiction books in the belief that opinions should be based on fact. And it’s strange that my dyslexia can spot the typos, or correctly spelled but inappropriate words; I’ve recently seen ‘quite’ when ‘quiet’ was meant, for example.
I’m not looking for a career as a proof-reader, though.

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