28 August 2009

Book Review: The Name of the Rose

Title: The Name of the Rose
Author: Umberto Eco
Published: 1980 Pages: 502
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4/5

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis

Adso, a novice monk of the Benedictine order, accompanies Brother William, a Franciscan friar, to an abbey with the task of religious/political negotiations. But a murder has occurred and Brother William, a master of logic in a Sherlock-esque mode, is called on to investigate. Over the course of the investigation, William and Adso encounter many mysteries: the past lives of the variant monks living at the abbey, a labyrinthine library that holds untold secrets, and signs of the Apocalypse.

My Thoughts

I have been putting off reading this novel for quite some time. A discussion of this procrastination can be found here. One reason for my procrastination was fear of the length, which was overcome by my attraction to the Chunkster Challenge. Then, as fortune would have it, I joined the Take a Chance Challenge which called for me to read a book from 1980. Lo and behold, that is when Eco published The Name of the Rose = reason number two to read the novel. Then, while talking with Brandon, he recommended the book and that was the trifecta. And just today, I joined the R.I.P. IV Challenge and ta-da, it works for this too.

Brandon gave me a good piece of advice - read up on the history before reading the book - which I in my arrogance promptly ignored. I really should have. I probably would have gotten so much more out of the novel if I knew a bit of what was going on in Italy and around Europe at the time, especially as regards Papal and political history.

Of The Name of the Rose's 502 pages, I probably only fully comprehended half. This was not just a murder mystery, but also a lengthy discourse on religious politics, literary theory, the nature of truth, semiotics, logic, the validity of inquisitions, syllogisms, and history. I was fascinated even as I was confused. Overall though, the book is a good story with many and diverse characters, beautiful language, and intriguing philosophies. I'm not even sure where to begin with an actual review....as you can probably tell by now. With so much fodder for the mill, it is impossible to focus, and hence I turn to bullet points:

What I Loved
  • References to historical characters and events that I recognized such as William of Ockham and the Inquisition
  • The religious-political divide between monks who advocated poverty to the point of violence and those who interpreted the poverty of Christ more broadly
  • Eco's amazing ability to describe. Two stand out - a doorway which features a world upside-down and backwards and a dream which features characters from the Bible and from the reality of the book
  • The logic inherent in William's analysis of the crimes being committed and of the discord amongst the fighting religious factions
  • The lovely titles of each chapter such as Second Day Matins: In which a few hours of mystic happiness are interrupted by a most bloody occurrence.
What I Didn't So Much Love
  • The overabundance of historical information which I could not relate to and did not see the import of in relation to the story being told
  • His insistence on putting a bunch of Latin phrases throughout the book. I, unfortunately, do not speak Latin...at all.
Overall, I recommend this book to any who have the time to read it, and I would suggest that any who do read the book, take Brandon's advice and read up a bit on the history of the time period prior to reading.
Other Reviews
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  1. Good review especially considering you admit not not understanding half of it! And I'm glad you enjoyed it despite the same.

    Yes, Eco isn't for everyone, but he's so unique his stuff is worth working through.

    Have you seen the film? Enjoyable - focusing on the murder msyerty aspect.

  2. Thanks for this review. I too have been putting off reading this book. I think I will do some history reading and then finally pick this one up!

  3. Mon - I haven't seen the film, but I will. I've had a crush on Sean Connery for years, even though he's about the same age as my grandfather. Someday, I'm going to re-read this book, and I'm going to research the heck out of the history of the time period first. Then I'd understand the whole thing.

    Jen - Definitely read up on some history first, paying particular attention to the difficulties between the Emperor and the Pope, and you might want to consider getting an idea of the different orders of Christian monks at the time, whether labeled heretics or not, and what their beliefs were.

  4. Great review! I have to admit I've been wanting to read this for years but have never gotten far in, mostly because of the language bits (do I remember there being French, Italian, and Spanish mixed in there along with the Latin?) However, I've never gotten rid of the book and your review is inspiring me to dust it off again and give it a go. Thanks!

  5. Kate - The language bits are both interesting and annoying (and yep, there are multiple languages interspersed throughout). They are annoying because, of course, I didn't understand the bulk of the words. On the other hand, I don't think it hurt my understanding of the meaning/plot/etc. too much, so it was kind of interesting to see all of those langauges mixed together. You should definitely give it a try!

  6. Great review! I've never read this book either because it scare me ... and I'm not sure I want to study up to read a book! (I'm lazy that way).

    I too have a policy that if I hear about the same book at least 3 times from different sources and in different forums, I'll try and read it. Seems like you were destined to read this book. Hats off to you -- I'm still too chicken to give it a go.

  7. Jenners - You don't have to research to read it - I didn't - but it would probably help. And the 3 recommendations rule is a must, isn't it? Three times is like fate.


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