Author: Umberto Eco
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.