the Little Red Reviewer

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

Posted on: October 6, 2010

You know that list of books you want to read again the moment you finish them? Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose makes that list for me.

For an Eco, it’s surprisingly readable, and layered in such a way that readers of any interest level will get a lot out of it.

At its most basic level, this is a murder mystery. In Eco’s afterward, he mentions the concept of the novel was born when he played with the idea of poisoning a monk. He also mentions that he wrote the prose in a specifically open manner to encourage readers to form their own interpretation of events and conversations. Is that person being sarcastic? Is there some kind of secrecy going on? If you interpret it that way, then he is, and there is. Like so many things in life, it’s all about how you interpret it.

Brother William and novice Adso are traveling to a Benedictine Monastery in Italy, for the purpose of meeting up with other monks in the area. They are hoping to devise a plan of attack for an upcoming meeting between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, at which heresy will be the main topic. When William and Adso arrive, they are informed of the recent death of a young monk, and asked to investigate. To protect the reputation of his monastery, the Abbot wishes for William to find out what’s going on before the other Catholic representatives arrive.

And, as this is a murder mystery, the bodies start piling up. As a friend of Sir Francis Bacon and William of Occam, brother William goes about his investigation in a very scientific way. Ask questions, find out where people were at the times of death, look for people with fishy alibies, look for footprints in the snow by the bodies. Piece by piece, Williams puts together his hypotheses, with minimal help from the secretive monks. He even sneaks into their famous labyrinth library after the abbot forbids him from doing so. There is something in that library that people are dying for. Like myself, William is a lover of books and knowledge – no learning is heretical, it is all important. Libraries of that time were literally banks of information, scrolls and books that existed no where else in the world. The philosophical idea of a library that exists to keep knowledge away from people and keep secrets was beyond fascinating for me.

The days go by, there are more deaths, the other Catholic representatives arrive, along with the Inquisition. Eco says he put the Inquisition in the story because you can’t have a 14th century story take place in a monastery without them. And yes, that chapter made me queasy, had me biting my nails, and nearly gave me an anxiety attack.

I could easily go on and on about  The Name of the Rose, so I’ll say just one more thing: read it. Make sure you get a copy with Eco’s afterword (because that’s the best part), and read it to. Eco hits everything just right: style of prose, action, descriptions, dialogue, everything. Because this is Eco we’re talking about, of course the novel has a handful of untranslated German, Latin, and Spanish. So of course I’m loving my Spanish-English dictionary (which I think is really my sisters?), am pulling my Latin books down from the shelf (Mom, if you’re looking for your Latin books, I’m holding them hostage), and contemplating getting a German English dictionary. The beauty of transliterations, and mistransliterations is that two people will often come up with three differnt ways to translate something. There’s another level for you.

It’s books like this that make those mediocre novels so hard to enjoy.

I should also let it be known this is the only Eco novel I’ve actually finished.  I didn’t get very far into Foucault’s Pendulum, and got about halfway through The Island of the Day Before.

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12 Responses to "The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco"

I’m ashamed to say that I tried reading it more than once but never got anywhere. :) I don’t think the time was right because I read according to my mood and since it was from my library, in that month, the mood just wasn’t right. But it’s somewhere in the back of my mind for quite some time as one of those I really ought to read.

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I loved this book although I loved Foucault’s Pendulum more:) It was also on the reading list for my Masters in History & Philosophy of Science, which was a pleasant surprise. You’re reviews made me want to read it again!

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Someone gave this to me as a Bat Mitzvah gift – I couldn’t get into it then, but I could try again…

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I tried reading it several years ago, and failed. But I put it back on the TBR list a while back, and your review gave me renewed inspiration to tackle it again! Thanks!

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I had to read this in college and reading parts of it with a professor and having him explaining things as we went along helped a lot. Eco is hard to read. I finally got through Foucault’s Pendulum but never made it through the Island of the Day Before. He’s not an easy read. Is it because he’s translated? I don’t know, but he’s a good story teller, if he could be a little easier to understand.

Your review was great. Really got to the heart of the matter without giving away the secrets. I watched the movie, too, but it didn’t do the book justice.

Heather
Buried in Books

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I cheated, I did see the movie before I read the book, so I sort of knew what to expect, although the ending of the book is totally different.

Eco is near impossible to read, but I don’t think it’s because he’s translated, I think he just likes to be difficult!

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I’ve heard good things about Umberto Eco’s books but I find them rather intimidating. Maybe, due to your recommendation, I’ll give this book a try.

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I’m in the same boat as many of the other commenters, I started it, but got bogged down. I’d just finished James Clavell’s Shogun and it’s possible the sheer mass of the book, added to it’s sometimes difficult language and those untranslated bits – which I find irritating and no, I don’t try to look them up – resulted in my abandoning the book for something with more immediate gratification; probably a hard-boiled mystery.

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Forgot to say I did later see the film and enjoyed it very much indeed.

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I love love love The Name of the Rose. Love. I read it ’cause a cute boy in my lit class in college recommended it, and it turned me into an Eco fan. The book turned my brain into mush, though, so I haven’t gone back to read it. But I want to, very much.

Foucault’s Pendulum…I enjoyed it, thought it wonderfully funny and snarky and clever right up until the end, which I thought was bleh. And in that case, a “bleh” ending ruined the novel. So disappointing!

I don’t recommend Bauldolino (forgive me if I misspelled that…). It’s a tough slog through the narrative, and I don’t think the payoff is worth it.

I haven’t read his other fiction, yet. Though I’ve been reading, bit by bit, some of Eco’s non-fiction.

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lol! I’d be lying if I said I’d never read something that a cute guy recommended!

I tried to get into Foucault’s Pendulum, now that turned my brain to mush! I’ll have to try it again.

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I share your love for the Name of the Rose, and I really like the man too. I had the pleasure to attend, many years ago, one of his lectures about Medieval Aesthetics. Eco is brilliant, ironic, daring. I would like him to write SF for once. I also enjoyed Foucault’s Pendulum, but I have to say two things: 1) I read it in French, and I wouldn’t know about the English version – especially in terms of style. 2) I have a knack for conspiracy theories, and this book is way much better than The Da Vinci Code, that I have personally found appalling. I would recommend some of Eco’s non-fiction books, especially the ones about postmodernism.

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