Book Review – The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco

by Rachel S

Another book review! It seems like I’m reading books very slowly (when in fact the opposite is true, I’m just picking which ones I’d like to write about up here). Preface: I am just a random human, and this is just my opinion of a random novel.

Anyway, as a preface something that has ‘New York Times Bestseller’ stamped on it is usually code for “you’ll at least enjoy this a little even if its not your cup of tea.” Though I’d never tried this before on a book that came out before I could actually read myself — literature, like fashion, tends to take very different shapes in different years. I also will not lie, I skimmed to the back and felt a little daunted at a 500+ page novel.

The short of is is that I really liked it — but in a very specific way. I read books sometimes and get completely swept away by the story, the characters (Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is one of these, as is Harry Potter, anything and everything Tamora Pierce, etc.). This was not one of those books. The Island of the Day Before takes you on a journey that is mystifying, beautiful, and intellectually stimulating, but can be frustrating if you’re looking to read a novel like those previously described.

In the novel, Eco brilliantly uses a layered narrative (and narrative chronology) to philosophically dissect the actions, hopes, and neuroses of the main character — the story is told by an unnamed scholar who has obtained the character’s writings, upon which the narrator proceeds in some places to embellish and interpret. One of the main things I found really lovely about The Island of the Day Before was the fun way that it included more academic-style analytical elements as part of the narrative. The story reads almost like a fantastical dream, but using these ideas it brings forward outright and essential examinations of love, storytelling, and the common sufferings of human existence in a way that is incredibly pleasant. Because of the choice of narrator and the already plot-based leanings of the book, you are led on a journey that invites you to think and dissect the action, not simply observe. At least for me, this made it sometimes not a totally easy read.

In other news, I’m incredibly intrigued by Eco — who has numerous novels in English translation (I’ve been told repeatedly to read Name of the Rose, I’ll get on that), but also is a published writer of nonfiction. People who can cross that divide with ease are at the very least interesting to read, so I’m adding him to my to-read list.


Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before. trans. William Weaver. Harcourt. 1994