A Richly Complex Novel

The Name Of The Rose, by Umberto Eco – Part 1



 image via desicritics.org

There are many things to speak of regarding such major modern novels; in spite of that, I’ll try to make this brief – albeit in two parts.

An associate gave me this book some twelve years ago. It’s not that I didn’t want to read it, you understand; it’s just that occasionally I have to do things in its own time. “Its own time” happened to come around as I do research on a somewhat similar medieval novel I’ll soon begin writing. But to Eco’s book:

The author, as the good ones do, accomplished many things with this novel.

  • First, it’s a well researched period piece.
  • It’s also a well-orchestrated mystery.
  • It’s an opportunity for the author to exercise his philosophic chops.
  • The book is religious throughout, and Eco does his best to depict the evolution of Catholic-ship’s Franciscans –the Benedictines wringing their hands as they look on.
  • The book ends with a morality play that incorporates all of the above.

In case you haven’t read this important book, a bit about the storyline. An aging Franciscan, William of Baskerville, and his novice, Adso, travel to an abbey in northern Italy and step into more than a murder and its surrounding mystery – they involve themselves in a monastic intrigue that would make any secular of that time blush.

As the body count mounts, William uncovers evidence of a book in the abbey library, which is the several murders’ central focus. But this book cannot be found.

Adso tells this story as if following the murders/intrigues vicariously – until he and William are also threatened. Thus, Eco’s project here is a book within a book, an account, if you will, of his coming of age as a man, coupled with a less-than-romantic view of the life he’s chosen. It gives nothing away to tell you that Adso continues in the monastic life, despite the ugliness he sees at the root of this abbey’s sensibilities. Ironically, this is largely due to the effect of William on Adso’s life – but an effect Adso barely understands.

image via cbc.ca

Why is this an important book? Because Eco’s bottom line here is, as above, a moral issue that transcends religion and most of secular life – an issue that only modern reason and philosophy can make sense of.

This can be a difficult book to read, but it’s worth the effort.  Next week a look at why we rationalize the effort.


My rating: 4 ½ of 5 stars





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