Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Review of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the RoseI saw the film of this book many years ago on TV and I remember (albeit vaguely) liking it. I bought the book a few years ago, but never got round to reading it. Whilst in Korea last time I bought and read the other well-known Eco book, Foucault’s Pendulum, and that bumped
up my priority reading list.

It’s easy to imagine Sean Connery as William of Baskerville, the Sherlock Holmes-like character who is tasked with facilitating a meeting of minds between representatives of the Pope and of a near-heretical monastic order who insist on Jesus’s poverty (thus undermining decadence of the Church). In the course of this mission he’s additionally tasked with investigating a possible murder, which then becomes two murders, then three, then four … It’s less easy to imagine Christian Slater as Adso, William’s novice assistant – partly because he’s the narrator and partly because he narrates the story as an old man decades later.

The novel proceeds quite slowly, with Adso detailing the events of each day in detail; so the six days thus described fill a 500-odd page B format paperback. There are many discussions about the, if you will, hate triangle between the Catholic Church, the Western Roman Empire and the ‘Minorite’ orders – and the meeting that occurs halfway through the book is a key element of these relationships. There are also some lengthy descriptions of the architecture of the hilltop monastery that provides the setting of the novel, and of its extensive collection of relics. The book delights in these extended digressions and in the use of obscure words (most of which will be coming to a blog near you soon).

Characterisation in the novel ranges from the naïveté of both the younger and elder Adsos, the omniscient inscrutability and smug modesty of William, and the doom-mongering of the two oldest monks who declaim about the coming of the Antichrist and the Apocalypse. These aspects tend to be a tiny bit grating and, in combination with the diversions the narrative takes into mediaeval history and Adso’s miscellaneous musings, make it difficult to maintain focus on the story (and may explain why it took me about a month to read it).

On the whole, though, The Name of the Rose is a fascinating book – often dense and challenging, occasionally quite funny, and well worth the read.

Categories: Literature, Reviews
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