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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

6 - Eco and the tradition of the detective story


The editors of a recent collection of essays on the history of the metaphysical detective story from Poe to the postmodern era suggest three variants of the contemporary metaphysical detective story that may be usefully applied to Eco's five novels. The first type, in the tradition that begins with Poe and runs to the present with such writers as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jorge Luis Borges, Eco, and Paul Auster, merges the historical novel with the metaphysical and produces a relatively minimalist, labyrinthine work where plural identities or suspects are reduced to one (the case of The Name of the Rose). The second type, juxtaposed to the first, reflects a maximalist style, is replete with loose ends and a chaotic plot, and includes characters whose identities are extremely uncertain, multiple, and remain open to question at the novel's conclusion (the editors place Foucault's Pendulum into this category). Finally, a third and relatively little studied postmodern variant of the metaphysical detective story, the pseudobiographical “research novel” where the search for the missing person leads to the surprising conclusion that we are he or she, is proposed. while the editors do not consider the other three of Eco's novels, The Island of the Day Before, Baudolino, and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana might well be placed in this category. Regardless of how critics organize Eco's literary production, there is little doubt that his fiction owes its inspiration, its popularity, and its originality to its creative engagement with the entire tradition of the literary detective story.

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