Review – The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

 

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Late in the year 1327 Brother William of Baskerville, a Franciscan monk, and Adso, a Benedictine novice, arrive at a monastery in Northern Italy. Winter is rapidly approaching, and so is both a legation led by a notorious inquisitor and another that contains that inquisitor’s implacable enemies. William is to speak in intercession between them.

But once they arrive at the monastery, a series of brutal murders begins, and, at the request of the Abbot, William and Adso are drawn into the investigation.

Every detective story needs a detective, and in The Name of the Rose it is William of Baskerville, who indeed uses logic and observation to make deductions, much like a medieval Sherlock Holmes.

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As the plot develops, there are long theological debates centred around both the poverty of Christ and the question of whether Christ laughed. Questions I have little knowledge of, but which read as authentic to me. But these debates are central to the plot. On the interpretation of Christ’s poverty alone, men and women are accused of heresy and burnt at the stake.

But everything is centred upon the monastery’s library. This library is the greatest library of its time in Europe, containing innumerable rare, important and beautiful volumes. At the centre of the story lies a mysterious and forbidden book, and this book lies at the centre of the labyrinthine library where only the Librarian and his assistant are permitted. But are the murders being committed to get hold of this book or is there another reason? Could they, in fact, be connected with the predictions in the Book of Revelations?

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This is such a well-known book that I found I forgot it was a translation from the original I was reading. Much like the Bible, of course, which point is salient to the monks, and certainly in medieval times this interpretation was a matter of life or death to thousands.

But the translation of  prose does not pose the same problems as the translation of verse, and I don’t suppose the English translation is any different from the Italian original. But the potentials made me smile

As a long book, it provides a canvas for long descriptions, both of the abbey and the associated buildings – essentially a castle – and of the long debates between the monks and the other players. At times there is undoubtedly a temptation to skip some of these, but the reader is adequately rewarded for persevering in that the descriptions paint a powerful picture of the place and time, while the debates tell much about the importance of religion and the ridiculous interpretations of every word of the Bible that quite literally governed the lives and deaths of everyone at that time.

A word about the pace of the book, though. Some readers may find it a little slow (although if those readers skip the debates and longer descriptions it is as fast-paced as any other), but remember it is not just a detective story, it is also a historical novel and moves at the pace one would expect of a book of that genre.

I read this a very long time ago, and although I remember it as having been a very good book, I had forgotten just how good. I will unhesitatingly give it five stars.

And the meaning behind the title? Well, you need to wait until the end to find out, and then you need to understand Latin…

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19 thoughts on “Review – The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

  1. the question of whether Christ laughed

    What was the Woody Allen joke? “The bible, four thousand pages and not a single joke.” I think he also said something about finding the word, “Oldsmobile” in the dead-sea scrolls.

    That aside, one is struck by the search for knowledge in what is written versus finding it in what is observed. I fear we are heading back into the dark ages by the academic temptation to find answers in ideology rather than observation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess it was the same mindset that had theologians in the medieval ages arguing over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin at any one time. I think religion brings that sort of nonsense out in people. At least it is less harmful than burning people at the stake because they think ever so slightly different to some other people, who happen to be powerful. Back to the old ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, I think.

      And I agree ideology has the upper hand over observation again – certainly in some quarters!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Even though I couldn’t care less about theological disputes, I loved that book, and the immersion in medieval times. It also brought out a taste of the hurly-burly of the MIddle Ages, which a lot of people perceive as a long monolithic regressive stretch, until the Renaissance got cooking. It also teaches us, there’s some advantages to reading electronic books, we’re less likely to lick our fingers while doing so! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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