Foucault?s Pendulum is not a novel about a detective, or his quest, or the Knights Templar, or any of the other topics touched upon by its subject matter, though it could easily be claimed to be any of the above. It is a novel about how we read, how our minds can be swayed by something as simple as what we think should happen or how we believe something should go.
The narrative begins at the end. Our hero (used in the loosest sense of the term) is being hunted down through a Parisian museum by an unknown number of men who want to kill him for something they think he has. Normally, a detective thriller that told you how it ended would not be terribly successful. Suspense becomes remarkably difficult to create when your reader knows what happens next. However, this novel goes even further; it actually tells it?s reader that, not only will they not predict the end (which they have just been told) but that they will make all the same assumptions, leading to all the same mistakes as our hero, even with the advantage of 20-20 hindsight (in this case, not such a wonderful thing). For this novel has been written by a philosopher and literary critic, as well as by a talented author.
Eco relies on a reader?s assumptions about the genre he is reading to create traps. He presents us with a narrative that has all the appearances of a whodunit ? secret societes, hidden messages, prizes worth killing for. And because of this we, as readers become involved with the narrative. It ensnares us as surely as it does the other characters in the novel with our willing consent. Because of our credulity the author can manipulate us as surely as he does his cast of characters leading us to a point where educated men can kill for the mere idea of something precious, without any proof that it even exists. And we as readers can see the logic in it. The text itself becomes as elusive as the text at the novel?s core ? a text that could be the key to the resting place of the Ark, or that could be a 200 year old shopping list. And it is this ambiguity that the characters and the reader are so desperate to clarify one way or the other that allows the writers of both pieces to play with us so effectively. In literary theory there is a premise which suggests that the substance of a text begins to unravel the minute a reader tries to make sense of it. This is the key to mind games being played in Eco?s astonishingly clever, entertaining novel.