Amelia Burns, March 29, 2012 (view all comments by Amelia Burns)
In The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Adso, the narrator and novice, accompanies William, a monk, to a Northern Italian monastery in the 1300s in order to attend a theological debate concerning the poverty of Christ. Upon arriving, the abbot informs William of a curious suicide by one of the monks, Adelmo. Knowing William’s history as a former inquisitor, the abbot pleads with William to investigate the suicide before an important group of monks from the Pope and Emperor come to the debate. However, shortly after they arrive at the monastery, more monks die in more strange ways. William begins to suspect that the monks are being murdered, and that they are somehow tied to the library. When Malachi, the librarian, denies William access to the library, William’s interest only becomes more piqued. Why is it so important that only Malachi and the librarian’s assistant, Berengar, enter the library’s labyrinth? William and Adso are then forced sneak into the library, only to discover that the library’s secrets are more extensive than they could have ever imagined. By using the secrets of the library, and William’s own brilliance, he and Adso must discover the reason behind the murders.
As a medieval historian first and a writer second, Umberto Eco is able to brilliantly immerse his readers into a historically accurate setting: a beautiful monastery in the mountains of Italy, November 1327. In his postscript, Eco notes that facts like “the debate over poverty and the Inquisition’s hostility towards the Fraticelli” (514) were important details to embed within his novel to ensure accuracy. For instance, the novel takes place at the end of November in 1327 because “by December, Michael of Cesena is already in Avignon… (and) like the movements of Michael, (such details) depend on the real world, which, in this kind of novel, happens to coincide with the possible world of the story” (514). Eco takes time to ensure the historical context of the book is accurate. The details of the setting, the mannerisms of the monks, the background information concerning the monks’ reasoning for their actions, and the clear knowledge of the biblical Apocalypse, and the frequent, fluent use of Latin (the common language of monks) all help guide the reader to understand the novel. One way that Eco does this is through the method of Adso’s narration.
In his postscript, Eco says that “Adso’s narrative style is based on that rhetorical device called preterition or paralepsis, or ‘passing over’” (519). Because Adso is a novice, he is uneducated. In other words, Eco takes the time to step back from the plot in order to explain situations, and this is done when William must explain situations to Adso. This is very useful when complicated issues arise, such as why the monks are so aroused by talk of heresy, and why the poverty of Christ is such a complicated and heated topic of discussion. Adso narrates the novel in first-person, and through this point-of-view, the reader is able to become more emotionally involved with events in the novel.
A major theme throughout the novel is the pursuit of truth versus knowledge. Some knowledge, whether it is true or not, simply must be kept within the library. Only under special circumstances, with the abbot’s consent, may some books be removed and read from the library. It is up to both the librarian and the abbot to discern between the pursuit of knowledge and truth. When in the library’s labyrinth, Adso asks William, “‘How can we trust ancient wisdom… if it is handed down by lying books that have interpreted it with such license?’” -" to which William replies with, “‘Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means’” (316). It is with this philosophy the monks in the monastery consider literature. William and Adso pursue the truth of the murders with the help of the forbidden knowledge, but it is up to them to discern what is truth, and what is simply knowledge.
In my opinion, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is beautifully written; however, it cannot be considered light reading. While Eco presents his reader with a captivating mystery, his tendency to deviate from the plot can be rather tedious, and tended to frustrate me when I thought his tangents deviated for too long. The Name of the Rose is often compared to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, as they both relate to mysteries surrounding a biblical context. But while Dan Brown focuses more on the mystery, Umberto Eco not only presents his readers with a mystery, but also allows his reader to enter into the issues and details of the time period, too. If it had not been for my faith-based upbringing, I would have not have been nable to pick up on the subtle biblical allusions to the Apocalypse, biblical events, and other specific details found within the Bible. While it is certainly not impossible to read this novel without biblical understanding, it certainly helps. I can easily see that without this knowledge, the reader could become easily deterred and frustrated while reading the novel. But, Umberto Eco realized this when he wrote the novel. He mentions in his postscript that his goal wasn’t to attract every reader. He says that he wanted readers that would “play his game” - " that would willingly enter into a medieval world and dive into a complex work. He challenges the reader to read beyond the first hundred pages, to push past the things that frustrate you and open your mind and allow him to take you on a journey. And this is why, artistically, the novel exceeds expectations. If you have the patience and the time, you will not be disappointed. However, buyers-beware, do not be surprised or deterred if you have to look up information, because it can be well worth your time if you do.
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jon113113, May 3, 2010 (view all comments by jon113113)
Certain books have been cast out of the limelight because of the challenge they pose to readers. The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, is not a book for the faint of heart. Its infinite complexity and dense material can seem daunting, but for those who are up to the challenge, the book is a wonderfully satisfying read.
The Name of The Rose revolves around two monks, William of Baskerville, and Adso of Melk, in their attempt to root out a murderer plaguing a medieval monastery. In a very Holmesian fashion, William and Adso navigate through the monastery, discovering layer upon layer of mystery, navigating passageways, decoding secret messages, confronting monks and their unholy ways, all under the pretext of a holy mission. But, as they find out, the mystery only compounds itself, yielding further struggle to these characters, and culminating in an Apocryphal climax.
When I first looked at the novel, the sheer enormity of the book made me doubt my decision to read it. There are larger books out there, but the density of the material within is truly staggering. Eco goes from describing a secret message on one page to a scathing discussion on religious tenets in the next pages. But pushing forward through the novel, the journey began to reveal larger messages that Eco invokes. The main character, Adso, plays a role remarkably similar to the reader, and together, we journeyed though the book. Adso’s journey mirrors our own, and even he feels “it is hard to know whether the letter he has written contains some hidden meaning, or more than one, or many, or none at all.”
After the plot became understandable, further layers in the novel revealed themselves. Symbols started to emerge, blatant ones, religious ones, and symbols so broad it takes a second glance to fully understand how exactly it fits. But once they are realized connections are made, ideas fall into place, and the whole novel begins to click. There were many “Aha!” moments as I read, which are always fun.
However, after finishing the novel, a new understanding becomes apparent to the reader. The novel is not simply a murder mystery in a monastery, but so much more. Every piece of the puzzle, from a carving in the door to the arrangement of rooms in the library plays a vital role in the solution to the puzzle at the end. And the real gift of The Name of The Rose is not in its plot, but the realization about literature, about ideas, about understanding that the book teaches. For Umberto Eco’s novel is not just a novel, but a masterpiece that deserves to be read.
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by San Francisco Chronicle,
"A brilliantly conceived adventure into another time, an intelligent and complex novel, a lively and well-plotted mystery."
by New York Times Book Review,
"The novel explodes with pyrotechnic inventions, literally as well as figuratively....The narrative impulse that commands the story is irresistible....Mr. Eco's delight in his narrative does not fail to touch the reader."
"Like the labyrinthine library at its heart, this brilliant novel has many cunning passages and secret chambers....Fascinating....Ingenious....Dazzling."
by Sunday Times (London),
"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?"
It is the year 1327. Franciscans in an Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, but Brother William of Baskerville’s investigation is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths. Translated by William Weaver. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book
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