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the Complete Review
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Confessions of a Young Novelist

Umberto Eco

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To purchase Confessions of a Young Novelist

Title: Confessions of a Young Novelist
Author: Umberto Eco
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2011)
Length: 204 pages
Availability: Confessions of a Young Novelist - US
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Confesiones de un joven novelista - España
  • The Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature, 2008

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining lectures

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 12/3/2011 Janet Todd
The Los Angeles Times . 2/6/2011 Susan Salter Reynolds
Times Higher Ed. . 19/5/2011 Christoph Bode
TLS . 20/5/2011 Michael Gorra

  From the Reviews:
  • "Eco knows he speaks both to an elite minority and to a popular audience; the latter is not entirely excluded but has "lost an additional wink". (...) Eco ponders the age-old questions of fiction: how real and imaginary can blend, why we cry over the plight of a made-up character, and in what sense, say, Anna Karenina and Leopold Bloom "exist"." - Janet Todd, The Guardian

  • "This comparatively slim volume is entertaining and, at times, amusing, but it is not original or highly innovative. (...) It seems that Eco, now in his late seventies, is running on empty, recycling old material. But given the quality of that material, I guess that's all right." - Christoph Bode, Times Higher Education

  • "Does it matter that Eco is here simply covering his own greatest hits ? Confessions of a Young Novelist does nothing to deepen the groove of his thought, although it does offer a lucid introduction to this practised performer's mind. As a set of lectures it might well have been wonderful; but anyone who has read him before can skip it." - Michael Gorra, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Confessions of a Young Novelist collects Umberto Eco's Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature which he delivered in 2008. At the opening he explains why these are confessions of a 'young novelist': although when he delivered the lectures he was "marching toward my seventy-seventh year" he had only published his first novel, The Name of the Rose, in 1980, and:

Thus, I consider myself a very young and certainly promising novelist, who has so far published only five novels and will publish many more in the next fifty years.
       Throughout, Eco uses his own work as touchstone in the lectures, making connections between his own writing and his subject-matter as well as constantly using examples from his writing (both the content and the process). He notes that he is "an academic by profession, and [...] a novelist only as an amateur", but in these lectures focuses on his creative writing (though his academic background very obviously constantly seeps into that).
       He differentiates between creative and scientific writing in this way:
in a theoretical essay, one usually wants to demonstrate a particular thesis or to give an answer to a specific problem. Whereas in a poem or novel, one wants to represent life with all its inconsistency.
       Nevertheless, as he explains what's behind his works of fiction -- what led him to write them, and what he tries to do in them -- there is clearly also still much of that theoretical and thesis-driven approach in them as well, as he reveals in the first lecture, a general and more personal one in which he focuses on his own work, explaining his methods and interests.
       The second lecture considers 'Author, Text, and Interpreters', and offers examples of readers seeing or finding things in a text that the author might not have been aware of, or didn't intend, while the third lecture offers 'Some Remarks on Fictional Characters', continuing in a similar vein and also exploring why readers find many fictional characters so 'real'. As Eco notes, "By definition, fictional texts clearly speak of non-existent persons and events", and yet readers feel for these inventions in ways that often go beyond their reactions to actual people and events
       In the final lecture, Eco revels in 'My Lists', considering all varieties of lists (and giving sometimes page-long examples from them).
       Eco's lectures display the same combination of playfulness and erudition that is found in his novels (meaning also that it is not always entirely successful -- though even where it falls a bit short there is something to be gleaned or learned there). Fantastically well-read -- including in literature going back to medieval times, which few readers are likely to be comfortably familiar with -- Eco can offer an extraordinarily wide range of examples, while his personal experiences (and comments from his readers) make for an amusing personal touch. Even where the material (or references) can begin to feel a bit overwhelming, Eco shows a humorous, easy touch: there's something of a sledgehammer approach here, but the blows come so padded that one hardly feels them.
       Of great interest to anyone who has enjoyed Eco's fiction, the lectures in Confessions of a Young Novelist are also of more general interest for their thoughts about fiction and reading. An enjoyable little book.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 March 2011

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Confessions of a Young Novelist: Reviews: Umberto Eco: Other books by Umberto Eco under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Umberto Eco is professor at the University of Bologna. He has written both academic books and popular novels.

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