10 August 2015

Review: THE NAME OF THE ROSE, Umberto Eco

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1201 KB
  • Print Length: 517 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (June 30, 2012)
  • Publication Date: June 30, 2012
    Originally published in Italian in 1980
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0089WCFSG
Synopsis (from Amazon, but from Library Journal)

[The writer from Library Journal apparently read an abridged version - I wish I had]

Eco, an Italian philosopher and best-selling novelist, is a great polymathic fabulist in the tradition of Swift, Voltaire, Joyce, and Borges. The Name of the Rose, which sold 50 million copies worldwide, is an experimental medieval whodunit set in a monastic library. In 1327, Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate heresy among the monks in an Italian abbey; a series of bizarre murders overshadows the mission. Within the mystery is a tale of books, librarians, patrons, censorship, and the search for truth in a period of tension between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. The book became a hit despite some obscure passages and allusions.

From the back cover of the original printing
The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate.When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the cover of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, The Name of the Rose is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages. 

My Take

I chose this book as my contribution to the Past Offences meme, Crime Fiction of the Year 1980, primarily because I had often meant to tackle it. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I originally got a copy from my local library, but the text was so small it was off-putting, so I eventually bought a copy for my Kindle: thankfully fairly cheap.

If you'd like a more comprehensive review of this book than what follows, try the one at Past Offences.

There are eventually seven deaths at this Italian abbey but they come very slowly, amid an absolute plethora of lengthy Latin quotations that I had little hope of translating and swathes of medieval ecclesiatical debate about such riveting topics as whether Jesus ever laughed, or whether the Devil ever does any good. The crimes centre around the labyrnthine library for which the abbey is known. The main function of the abbey is the copying of books and the preservation of "knowledge", often through external commissions. Many of books are secular rather than religious. Access to the library and the books is very restricted and Brother William finds his investigations blocked at every turn by the librarian and even at times by the Abbott.

In addition to the theological arguments the structure of the book is clogged with stories that seem to have little to do with the murder investigation that Brother William is undertaking. The narrator is Brother William's assistant Adso, who is a novice. He doesn't always seem to get the point of the convoluted explanations that William gives him, and there are other times when he goes off on a tangent on his own investigation. The state of the church and the struggle between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor is described in some detail.

So while it is probably good material for the medieval historian, it is not really engaging crime fiction. I am sorry to report that in the long run this was a DNF for me. According to the counter on my Kindle I had read 50%, and had four hours to go. I had a hard time not getting frustrated with the amount of time it was taking, particularly considering its length.  The pseudo academic flavour of the style slowed my reading down intolerably. And then eventually I admitted that I had no interest in continuing. Perhaps there was a good story there among all the words, but I was no longer interested in working it out.

My rating: 1.5


Harvee said...

Sorry you didn't like this one. I was very taken with it when I read it some many years ago. I liked the setting and the period, and I also went to a school run by Franciscan priests and nuns. Hope you will give it another try.

Kay said...

I remember watching the movie adaptation and enjoying it. Have never read the book. Don't think I will. Maybe I'll watch the movie again. LOL

Anonymous said...

+1 to all of the above :-)

Thanks for getting to 50% Kerrie!

Anonymous said...

Let me guess, Kerrie: you weren't too keen on this, right? ;-) - It is a lot more 'history' than 'mystery,' I agree. And especially at that length, no book is for everyone.


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