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The Name Of The Rose (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 5 Feb 2004
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"The late medieval world, teetering on the edge of discoveries and ideas that will hurl it into one more recognisably like ours...evoked with a force and wit that are breathtaking" (Financial Times)
"A novel of sunning intelligence, linguistic richness, thematic complexity" (Il Giorno)
"This novel belongs with Voltaire' philosophical tales-in the entertaining guise of an erudite fiction story, it is also a vibrant plea for freedom, moderation and wisdom" (L'Express)
"A brilliant deconstruction of the traditional crime novel" (Iain Rankin Mail on Sunday)
"Whether you’re into Sherlock Holmes, Montaillou, Borges, the nouvelle critique, the Rule of St. Benedict, metaphysics, library design, or The Thing from the Crypt, you’ll love it. Who can that miss out?" (Sunday Times)
The ground-breaking first novel from Umberto Eco – a murder mystery, an enthralling chronicle of the Middle Ages, a piece of biblical analysis and a stunning popular and critical success all at once.See all Product description
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However, I decided I would tackle the challenge as I also knew it was a mystery novel and, in general, I enjoy mystery novels (unless they are too graphic).
The Name of the Rose is a mystery novel, but it is a medieval mystery novel, set in a monastery against a background of a theological debate, and I found that I was as caught up in trying to follow the religious arguments (and form my own opinion of them) as I was by solving ‘whodunit’? In fact, by about half way through the novel I was so caught up in the story that I forgot to look out for clues as to the murderer’s identity… which meant I had a big surprise at the end.
At the heart of the monastery, and at the centre of the novel, is the mysterious library – a labyrinth which can only be accessed by the librarian and his assistant. Like all forbidden or restricted things, curiosity drives others to long to penetrate the library’s secrets – unfolding a devastating chain of events.
The Name of the Rose is a novel about sincere monks grappling with what seem to them to be vital questions: Did Christ practice (and preach) a rule of poverty for Himself and His followers? What should the relationship be between the (Catholic) church, the Emperor, and the common people? And, perhaps most important of all, Did Christ ever laugh? While these may not be questions which are asked in modern religious circles, what struck me was how the monks holding differing views used their religious beliefs in order to support political arguments – a trend as old as the monasteries of the Middle Ages and as modern as the American Presidential elections.
The other theme in The Name of the Rose is about the importance of knowledge, and particularly the information stored in books, and about whether access to that learning should be free for all or restricted. Is all knowledge good, because it is knowledge, and should therefore be shared, or are there some things which it is better to keep a secret?
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this book – although I think it adds an interesting dimension if you are – neither do you have to be an expert on medieval times. If you have the patience to grapple with complex events (while remembering that the precise details are perhaps, not vital to the story), and the desire to read a novel that elevates the basic ‘whodunit’ to an art form, then add The Name of the Rose to your reading list, and persevere until the end. You will not be disappointed (but you may wish to read it again, to see if there were clues you missed the first time around).
Eco takes you back in time to the early 14th century and a Europe in disarray as competing factions fight out whether or not Jesus owned the shirt on his back (sort of). The murder mystery that forms the backbone of this book is set in an imposing monestary high in the mountains, home to a treasury of literature and an increasing body count that the principle characters are tasked with sorting out.
In large part the writing is simply stunning. Utterly absorbing. But in many places, Eco indulges himself with rambling narratives that serve no great purpose. He seems to have a passion for reeling off long lists of almost anything which don't advance the story. An editor's cutting scissors would have been helpful.
The result is a book that is both utterly absorbing and difficult to get into. A paradox the author I'm sure would be content with.
But, keep going. It's a fascinating and detailed book, full of twists and turns, as is the library at the centre of the who-dun-it. Was hugely talked about when first published, and I remember reading it ages ago, but it's been good to revisit.