Eco Back in Italy, Dahl Redux in Spain, and Harry Potter Everywhere Else
Umberto Eco is at it again. Romance, that is. His fourth such novel to date — featuring the picaresque adventures of the title character, Baudolino — has hit the stands in Italy, and we’re told its pages are bursting with tall tales of “imaginary Italian” and “mysterious lands inhabited by monsters.” Oh, and there’s a love story in there, too. Baudolino is a boy living in the 12th-century countryside near Marengo, and, as Eco explained to La Repubblica, “is a little rascal, similar to the scoundrels that exist in many indigenous mythologies: in Germany they call him Schelm, in England the Trickster God.” The first chapter is told as written by Baudolino directly onto parchment when he was 14; Eco said he got a kick out of concocting the region’s vulgar form of Latin, “about which we don’t have any documentation. I enjoyed myself a lot.” Nonetheless, claims Eco, it’s not a book for lexicographers. “There are no advances in philology here,” he told the paper. “These are not pages of erudition, they are pages of comedy.” The book is due out in the US in fall 2002 from Harcourt. In related news, Foucault’s Pendulum has finally been optioned to Fine Line Features, with production set for late 2001.
Also in Italy, for what it’s worth, James Hillman has nipped the list at #9 with The Force of Character, a nonfiction look at old age. The value of aging, Hillman writes, is that “we become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years.” The idea — as those who read Random’s US edition will recall — is that the aging process is meaningful: lapse of short-term memory lets us savor the past, while weakening stamina enhances our ability to notice the little things. Seems like this one’s due for a breakout on Italy’s version of Oprah.
In the UK, Wendy Holden is fresh off the back forty with Pastures Nouveaux, in which artist Rosie longs for a peaceful country cottage, but is rudely awakened from her dreams when she realizes that village life actually resembles a pastoralized looney bin. Holden is a journalist and former editor at Tatler magazine who’s now at the Mail on Sunday. No US publisher was under contract for the new one at press time, but her past two books have been pubbed in the States by Plume (Bad Heir Day is due out in the US this summer). See Jonathan Lloyd at Curtis Brown for rights. Also in the UK, veteran conspiracy scribe Colin Forbes returns with Rhinoceros, in which perennial characters Tweed, Paula Grey, and Bob Newman are back on the trail of five heads of state who are plotting to unleash a wave of civil uprisings upon the Western world. The twist? They’re conspiring over the Internet. No US publisher had signed on as yet, though deals were made in Germany (Heyne) and expected shortly in Holland, Sweden, Israel, and other lands far and near. See agent Carol Heaton at Greene & Heaton.
An oddity in Spain this month: Superzorro turns up by the late childrens’ author Roald Dahl, better known for the long-playing hits Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. The work is actually Fantastic Mr. Fox, in which three farmers, each one meaner than the other, try all-out warfare to get rid of Mr. Fox and his family. As one reviewer put it, the book “tells the story of clever Mr. Fox, his adoring wife, and their four small children, who outsmart three of the nastiest, ugliest, and ultimately dumbest farmers ever to raise poultry.” The book was published in 1970 by Knopf. Dahl’s agent is David Higham Associates. Also in Spain, back from the past is Katherine Neville’s The Eight, the 1988 cult classic inspired by the author’s work in North Africa as an international consultant to the Algerian government at the time of the OPEC embargo. The book is a sort of postmodern thriller set in both 1972 and 1790, and deals with computer expert Catherine Velis, who receives an assignment in Algeria, which is complicated by a diabolical global chess game. Now on the Spanish list at #6, the book was published in the US by Ballantine, and has been translated in some 15 languages.
In France, Tahar Ben Jelloun’s That Blinding Absence of Light is the latest from the celebrated Morocco-born author. Ben Jelloun emigrated to France in 1961 and won the Prix Goncourt in 1987 with his novel The Sacred Night (he was the first North African to win the prize). The author had a global hit with Racism Explained to My Daughter, which was translated into more than a dozen languages and sold more than 300,000 copies, and he has been investigating the continuing problem of European-Arab relations. Seuil has published the new one. On a more predictable note, Armistead Maupin hits the French list — battling at least two Harry Potter titles for the distinction — with The Night Listener, Maupin’s semi-autobiographical novel about a storyteller for a long-running PBS series featuring people “caught in the supreme joke of modern life who were forced to survive by making families of their friends.” (It was out in the US last year from Harper.) And a last tip in France: Patricia MacDonald, who is on the list with Last Refuge, is “huge in France,” though she’s never made it in the US, our source reports. MacDonald has previously published Lost Innocents and The Unknown; see agent Jane Rotrosen.
And in a brief note from Switzerland, word comes to us that Swiss author Urs Widmer has broken the 100,000-copy mark with his latest novel, Mother’s Lover, which Diogenes published last August. The Zurich-based Widmer is known for his books Love Letter for Mary and In the Congo, the former containing a love letter that is itself written in English, though embedded in a German text consisting of the brief narrative frame and the “author’s” comments that interrupt the love letter on several occasions. At press time rights had been sold to France (Gallimard), Italy (Bompiani), Holland (Byblos), and Denmark (Fremd). See Hedwig Janés at Diogenes for a synopsis and rights information.
In other news, you’ll be relieved to know that one prominent US Senator will be covering some of the family legal bills care of a few international rights deals. Heard on the street (though no one was confirming anything at press time): Hillary Clinton’s book was going to Headline UK for $1.3 million, to Fayard in France for $400,000, and deals were completed in Germany and Finland, with Holland still being negotiated. All that’s on top of the rumored $8 million deal with Simon & Schuster in the US.