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Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose

March 28, 2008

38. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1980)

Length: 552 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 24 March 2008
Finished: 28 March 2008

Summary: Adso of Melk, our narrator, is a young Benedictine monk traveling with William of Baskerville, a Franciscan and ex-inquisitor, in the year 1327. William has been summoned to an abbey in Italy to investigate the mysterious death of one of the brothers. The abbey is home of one of the greatest – and strangest and most secretive – libraries of its time. After Adso and William arrive at the abbey, more murders occur… murders bound up with the secrets of the library, the nighttime activities of the abbey, and a dire prediction of the coming of the apocalypse.

Review: I’m going to start my review at the end, with the author’s postscript. In this, he says that the first 100 incredibly dense, difficult pages are intentionally dense and difficult, to serve as a “penance” or “initiation” for the reader, to make sure he is “worthy” of reading the rest of the novel. I rather wish I’d read the post-script first, and saved myself the journey, because: what an incredibly arrogant way of going about writing a book! I don’t think of myself as particularly unintelligent, impatient, or incapable of dealing with books with complex themes or a lot of historical detail, but apparently I’m not intelligent, patient, or capable enough to be a “worthy” reader of Eco’s writing. Five hundred and fifty pages of which at least 400 are Catholic history and debates about obscure points of theology and untranslated bits of Latin, padded around a mystery that was good and mysterious, but generally overlooked in favor of more ramblings about heresy and poverty and whether or not Christ laughed… I’m sure it’s a symptom of my unworthiness, but that’s not what I want in a novel. In general, apart from being dense and difficult, which it surely was, I also found the tone to be arrogant and demeaning – as though the whole point of the book was to demonstrate how much smarter (excuse me, “more erudite”) than you the author is, and if you didn’t get it or didn’t like it, it’s because you’re too dumb or low or common to understand true Art, but certainly it wasn’t through any fault of the work itself. Which: I call shenanigans. The mystery was good, and bits of the writing were very evocative, but in general I found this book to be a huge struggle: dry, boring, and willfully obtuse. Eco can keep his worthy readers, I’m going to stick to books that are actually enjoyable. 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If I want some (read: 400 pages of) ecclesiastical debate mixed in with my historical mystery, I’ll ask for it, thanks. Otherwise, you can keep your erudite babbling to yourself. I’m clearly in the minority here, but I don’t think it’s worth your bother unless you’ve got a masochistic streak to your reading habits.

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First Line: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This was beginning with God and the duty of every faithful monk would be to repeat every day with chanting humility the one never-changing event whose incontrovertible truth can be asserted.

Yes, yes there was, and plenty of it, but this book was slow-enough going as it was; if I stopped to jot down a vocab word every other line I’d never have finished.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    June 2, 2013 3:07 pm

    Spot on. I share the opinion about this tedious and boring book.
    A great disappointment given its supposedly big reputation.

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