Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Name of the Rose

Title: The Name of the Rose
Author: Umberto Eco
Genre: Fiction
Published: 1984
Rating: 6/10

Review: I picked up The Name of the Rose without much knowledge about the book with a vague idea that it'll expand my horizons and put another notch on my "reading belt" of important books. (I really gotta just throw that belt out of the window).

This is a fairly hefty tome of over 500 pages written in first person by an aging monk named Adso in 14th century to narrate a mystery he experienced in his youth at a Benedectine abbey in Italy with his Franciscan master, William of Baskerville.

In the beginning, I found the narrative rather fascinating, if a bit on the slow and wordy side of things. We are introduced to life in the abbey, the characters, and hooked onto the murder mystery part of the book. Brother William approaches mysteries in highly Sherlock Holmsian fashion -- his name is not coincidental, I believe -- and provides sharp observations about people and events at the monastery.

Unfortunately, Adso doesn't have his master's succinct style and goes off-tangent quite a bit. There are literally six pages of text describing the gates of the church at the abbey in such detail that my eyes glazed over and rolled around the back of my head and he still kept going. The author addresses this in his postscript saying that "arias" such as these were traditional parts of medieval age story telling. I can understand Eco's choice to follow the traditions of the style, but to me it means I am going to avoid books written in middle ages and books pretending to have been written in middle ages from now on. Because there aren't any gates in this world that deserve 6 pages of description, in my not so humble opinion.

And yet, the story and characters continued to be sufficiently interesting that I kept reading despite everything else. As the story progressed, another angle was introduced to the narrative, which spoke of the division of church's teachings; heresies; and conflicts between the emperor, the pope, and everyone else. I don't know the first thing about any of these things, but there were plentiful asides and explanations for me to follow, so at the end I did know a lot more about it, but unfortunately kind of wished I knew less of the church's politics and more about who's murdering the monks.

The author's postscript explains a lot about the novel and makes me feel bad for not appreciating the depth of the story and all the historical research involved. It does feel like the sort of book where you could run an English course for a term just to study all the different implications of all the different topics covered. Except that I wouldn't want to be in that class -- it would be much too aggravating to spend even more time thinking of how poorly women are treated by the church or how often church uses religious pretexts for gathering power and wealth at the expense of citizens.

The ending of the book is very fitting and disagreeable at the same time. I felt a keen disappointment in William who was the only character I thoroughly enjoyed throughout and not for his detective failures, but rather for the way he handles the last confrontation. It's disappointing, but at the same time, genius, when you are writing a book about personal failures (oh, and there sure is a lot of those in this novel).

To sum it up, it's not a book to be undertaken lightly, but with merit in both plot and historical detail if you can bear to read that sort of thing for hundreds of pages. I would've probably enjoyed it better if author gave up on the historical and religious aspects of the story and stuck to the murders at hand.


  1. If nothing else, this book provides lots to talk about. I thought it was too descriptive and wordy in places as well; and yeah, that was a turn off. A lot of the tangential stuff--in an independent study kinda way--I found fascinating. I did wonder if the depth that Eco explored some of the side material exceeded what was necessary for me to truly believe the narrative was taking place in the 14h century.

    I'm an idiot for so many reasons… How did I not see that ending coming? As in all of it? I actually had the gall to be surprised! I did think there was a powerful, almost "All is forgiven" type moment at the end when the murder mystery merged with the church politics and rule of St. Francis: did Christ own earthly possessions, should monks live in poverty, what is the church's position in the accumulation of wealth? All that stuff, some of which seemed boring at the time while reading, was not so subtly addressed a cleansing by fire, and decay of the physical body. In short, for me, all the boring tangents added weight to the ending. For me.

    What about William disappointed you?

    All in all I agree with you, I thought it was an extraordinary book, but I'm in no hurry to start reading it again…

  2. What else is on your 'reading belt?' I posted mine… "Ehem… "

  3. I was surprised by the final fire too. But I agree it was a rather fitting ending to it all. Especially since the whole plot was following the 7 signs of the Apocalypse. I agree, I should've seen it coming.

    William's reactions in the last meeting with Jorge rather did. First of all, he really didn't do anything to try and save Abo. He just accepted Jorge's word that there was no way to free him and settled down for a chat. Then when Jorge poisons himself, William spends all this time running after him in the library because of the book. I felt it was clear that the book is pretty much gone and they just brought trouble on themselves running around the library with Jorge who was already basically guaranteed dead. All this running around instead of planning the next move disappointed me and made me think the fire was almost William's fault.

    As for the books I want to read, I really don't have a list. I just see something cross my eyes at some point and think "Ah, how can I still have not read X", and then I read it :)