Hot on the heels of the release of The Prague Cemetery, Umberto Eco's latest novel (reviewed here last week), comes On Ugliness, the Italian author's newest non-fiction work. Written as a companion volume to On Beauty (2004), On Ugliness is, it transpires, a thing of beauty, featuring countless reproductions in this 450-page paperback.
Using examples from art and literature, plundering classic works and contemporary pieces, Eco compiles a collection of thought-provoking essays and commentaries to fit around the artworks. His references are multiple, eclectic and comprehensive, from the reproduction of Quentin Massys's 1525 oil Ill Matched Lovers that adorns the book's cover to the still from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which features in one of its later chapters.
But it is Eco's words that are the biggest draw here. As he writes in its concluding pages: "In everyday life we are surrounded by horrifying sights. We see images of children dying of hunger ... we see countries where women are raped by invading troops." There is, he concludes, something "sadly malign about this world". It is hard to disagree.