If historical fiction is to be judged based on how well it transports the reader back to a specific moment in time, then Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is an exemplary text. From its clever (and completely fictional) preface to a "discovered" manuscript by an aged Adso of Melk, the reader is plunged into 1327, when Adso, then a young novice, accompanies his master William of Baskerville on a delicate mission to a wealthy northern Italian abbey. While sent to hammer out the conditions under which Michael of Cesena (a real historical figure) will answer the Papal summons to Avignon, the pair are engaged in another quest: to discover who or what is behind the deaths of half-dozen monks, which pile up by the day during their week long stay. The investigation centers on the abbey's labyrinthine library, supposedly the best in all of Christendom, forbidden to all except the librarian who guards its secrets.
Alas, other historical fiction is to be judged on other criteria as well, e.g. readability. Umberto Eco unabashedly claims that the first hundred pages or so are meant as a "penitential obstacle" to select for his desired reader. The next four hundred pages are not light reading either: often consisting of long sentences stitched together by many commas, many pages are devoted to espousing various positions on Apostolic poverty and whether Christ laughed or not. Readers unfamiliar with or uninterested in medieval Latin, various heretical offshoot sects, or power struggles in the medieval Church might find themselves skimming over many long passages in favor of the mystery, which is partly so engaging because of its main sleuth. Student of Roger Bacon and an Inquisitor who resigned, William of Baskerville uses empiricism, logic, and deduction instead of high-tech tools to get to the bottom of the mysterious monkish deaths. An intellectual tale, The Name of the Rose is a postmodernist novel best enjoyed if the reader can embrace it in its totality.
Imagine a medieval castle run by the Benedictines, with cellarists, herbalists, gardners, young novices. One after the other half a dozen monks are found murdered in the most bizarre of ways. A learned Franciscan who is sent to solve the mystery finds himself involved in the frightening events...a sleuth's pursuit of the truth behind the mystery also involves the pursuit of meaning - in words, symbols, ideas, every conceivable sign the visible universe contains.l.
This fictional story is part medieval church history, part political thriller, and part medieval mystery. I found myself drawn to the protagonist (Brother William), who is a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Qui-Gon (of Star Wars)--even though the author frequently had him profess ideas and beliefs that were anachronistic for the time. The Sherlock Holmes influence is intentional--and to help a reader notice, the author gives Brother William's place of origin as Baskerville, and even places a few of Sherlock Holmes' lines in William's dialog. Because the author has written the book to reflect a medieval-sounding language, the prose at times gets rather thick and complex, so that I occasionally found myself skimming a passage that waxed eloquently about the differences between certain heretical groups so that I could get back to the storyline. Some of the seedy elements that the main characters uncover inside the abbey walls would be enough to keep me from sharing this book with a teen--although the long introduction of the era's church politics is probably enough of a barrier.
From the back of the book: "There's a murderer loose in the Abbey. Enter the labyrinth, unravel the mystery. You will never look at death or life in quite the same way again."
This is an excellent book. In fact I have two copies and decided to part with one. It is not a light read, but those who are interested in medieval history will love it.
I would not list this as one of my favorite books. I know people love it so it makes me sad taht I didn't. The main story line is engrossing (and why I did finish the book) but there was way too much "preachiness" and history that I felt detracted from the book not adding. I thought the book was just ok.
One of my all time favorites. I loved this book when it was first available in the US and kept wishing I had time to read it again . . . the story was so good that I wanted to read it again to follow up on the many tantelizing details of information that was new to me.
One of the most entertaining books I've read lately. A murder mystery set in a medieval monastery, this book is funny but also smart, without being dry. It was actually hard to put down. Highly recommended.
Saw the movie a long time ago; glad that I finally got the book and read it. The movie was at a necessarily different pace--different medium, different target audience, all that--but overall stuck quite close to the original. The novel had longer dialogues, some detailed theological and philosophical discourses, classical Latin quotes here and there: but that is not all bad, because it sets the mood and pace. Eco's stated purpose was to take the reader into an experience of the 14th century era and issues, and he did that quite well. The tale was told by the Adso, the young assistant to William of Baskerville, written decades after the events. Very interesting author's postscript attached three years after publication.
No mere detective story..We are given absorbing insights into (the) age--its history, its predicaments, its intricate politics and religious wars, its philosophy, mythology, science, handicrafts, cuisine, medicine and sorcery -- the London Times Literary Supplement
This novel works on several levels. Partly a description of the historical reality of the Monks in Italy before the Renaissance. Partly a murder mystery. Extremely well written and engaging. I loved it.
A challenge for the best. Scrambling through the latin translations is worth every effort in this extremely meaningful, soulful piece. (Or you can just by the all English version). But for those of us who can read latin, it's just not the same. Murder in the monestary! Who'da thunk it! If you haven't been subjected to the poor 80's movie rendition with Christian Slater and Sean Connery, I suggest reading this. It's a chunk to chew through, but will leave you hungry for more. A who dun-it or which monk did it? As you stumble around the long winded verses of the teacher all questions of religion/philosophy/& science are thrown at you. Swallow this and you can swallow anything.
Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and Benedectine novice Adso arrive at a monastery in Italy for a theological dispute. Many influential figures in the Catholic church will be there and the abbott is eager to have everything in place and perfect for such an important event. When a body of a monk is found in the most unusual place the abbot asks William to investigate and find the killer before the legates get there, but neither of them suspects that it will be no easy task because every day there is a new murder.
I read this book in 2009, after an almost 10-year hiatus from reading (college and its thick textbooks apparently can have that effect sometimes), and nearly two years later I couldn't quite get all the plot points straight in my head but remembered that I enjoyed it very much. That is until I heard an interview with Umberto Eco on BBC World Book Club and it brought back the details of this complex story. I couldn't put the jovial and oh so clever Mr. Eco out of my mind and eventually decided that writing a review of the book would be a nice little tribute to his work.
It was fascinating to find out that Eco is a scholar who specializes in medieval studies so the details of places, conflicts, ideas and descriptions of monastic life are historically accurate, especially since they so seamlessly blend with fiction to create an intriguing narrative that reads like a memoir of a participant, albeit in a modern language.
There are several things that make this book not your average historical murder mystery. Eco doesn't find it necessary to spoon-feed his audience, he feels we must do some mental work while reading: there are so many plot lines that complicate William's investigation that sometimes it was a real exercise to remember who everybody was and what their deal was, as they say; the text is peppered with phrases in Latin, quotes from books and religious authorities of the time, and there is no translation for them (apparently some European translations included a glossary but not the American ones); there's also quite a bit of theological discussion, which is to be expected considering the time and place where the novel is set. For these reasons I couldn't breeze through the book and I feel that this made me appreciate the setting and the characters as much as the action - often when I can finish a book in just several days I don't remember much about it in a month and this one is definitely memorable.
The murders are the driving force behind the story but it is the possible motives and the interactions between the monks that give it substance. There are plenty of theological issues to discuss, belief systems to evaluate and question, secret associations to uncover and pure human impulses and wishes ruling these men of faith to make the Benedictines an interesting and sometimes far from saintly bunch. William and Adso are rather colorful characters themselves. They are newcomers to this little community with William using his unusual skills and tools in his task of amateur detective and Adso struggling with the rapidly unfolding events and his own emotions, temptations and fears.
I expected that the reason for the murders would be something very human in its nature, like possessions or indiscretions. I was very surprised that instead it was a theological issue and even more surprised to realize that it was an issue at all in the 14th century and subject of much debate in the religious circles. It really was a different time back then and learning more about it makes me glad to be living today when the most basic things don't have people traveling all over the continent to argue about them.
I would recommend this book to those who enjoy murder mysteries with a side of intellectual conversation.
You can find more of my reviews at bibliophilescorner.blogspot.com
I just could not finish this. It seemed dishonest, arrogant, and grotesque. I love a good meander through a roaming book with lots of words, but this one didn't work for me. It seemed as if, having shot itself in the foot, it was then bent on shooting me in the foot as well.
I wish I could be more specific. I could start, but the list is too long on the many ways this book did not appeal to me. I know lots of people have enjoyed this book. Me, I'll stick with the Brother Cadfael series. At least in there, the descriptions of the characters doesn't make them all sound like zombies.
It could be the translation, or the culture the book comes from. I don't know.
This is an excellent book and I Loved it I have read it twice about 20 years apart and I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first time I is set in the 14th century and has a mystery to it and with keep you turning the pages. good read.
This is one of Umberto Eco's best novels. The story itself is compelling and even though it does not zip along it is extremely interesting. When you finish the book you are very happy you finished it and the book will stay with you for a very long time.