Back in July, feeling like I had to challenge myself once again with my reading–as I recounted in my post on Housekeeping–I decided to give Umberto Eco’s classic novel The Name of the Rose, clocking in at over 500 pages, a shot. Giving a preview skimming of the novel, I was suitably impressed by page after page of long, dense text. Wow, I thought, as if I was gearing up to move to an empty desert island this is going to last me a lo-o-o-o-n-g time.
Did it ever.
In fact, reading The Name of the Rose took me just as long as several other books I’ve plowed through in the past that were much, much longer. Now, I know that for a blog that’s supposed to encourage people to read classics, that’s not the most welcoming intro to this novel. But, weirdly enough, there’s something incredibly enjoyable to be found in Eco’s rambling, complicated, and, yes, dense narrative that took me over a month to finish. This is also the premier historical fiction work for anyone interested in knowing the state of Christian theology in the 1300s, a subject Eco makes surprisingly fascinating to the point where it comes to rival the main storyline.
A friar and a novice, named William of Baskerville and Adso, respectively, arrive at an Italian abbey in the early 1300s, where the abbot tasks William to look into the recent death of a monk there. This sounds like a simple story so far, but, in reality, the many forays Adso (the narrator) goes into with theology, William’s investigative skills, and intricate details about the abbey mean that this isn’t going to be some fast-paced thriller. Instead, The Name of the Rose takes on a slow, simmering eerie–and sinister–tone as more and more bodies pile up at the abbey. William and Adso suspect that murder is at play. The abbey’s library, whose incredibly confusing design is truly a case of you have to read it to believe it, becomes the heart of the mystery, especially since the abbey is weary of any outsiders venturing inside it.
Then, two-thirds the way in, Eco throws the narrative in a whole other direction by having Adso report on a lengthy and bitter theological feud. Now I will say that the killer’s identity won’t come as a huge shock, but by the time I reached the finale, that wasn’t really why I was reading the novel. Instead, I had got caught up in the often-bizarre and clandestine lives of the abbey’s inhabitants. Plus, there was slight comic relief (unintentionally?) from William of Baskerville, who comes across as both a brilliant detective and a pompous, even arrogant, man with a tad bit of an ego problem.
Also, if you read closely, you’ll discover that this novel’s title is a mystery itself. What the “rose” in The Name of the Rose is supposed to be, or what it’s name even is, never became clear to me . . . which means I’ll be back for a re-read in the near-future!
If it’s you’re first time jumping into this novel, then congratulations: you’re about to enjoy some of the most enjoyable chapters in literature devoted to topics such as if Jesus laughed (or did not laugh), what qualifies as a heresy and what doesn’t, and a page-long list of imaginary creatures of horrifying monster hybrids, all while having an intriguing mystery at the same time!
Read what others have to say about this book on Goodreads.com here. Follow me on Twitter at @ethan_nelsonwrt for takes on reading and writing, all under 280 characters!