I try to read a classic every year and this year’s choice was ‘The Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco. This novel was constantly recommended by my Year 12 History teacher.
The plot follows a Franciscan monk named William of Baskerville, attempting to uncover the mysterious murders occurring in a monastery in medieval Italy. Not only does his name create links to the famous Sherlock Holmes, the monk employs powers of observation and deduction in coming to conclusions about seemingly mysterious events. I particularly enjoyed the constant links to the mysterious library which has made this particular monastery famous. Any book about books makes me happy!
The story is told through the eyes of William’s apprentice, Adso, who is relaying it many years after its occurrence. While the plot itself is compelling, the actual mystery story is interspersed with huge academic tirades on the finer points of monastic orders and their conflicts in Medieval times, which can be a hindrance to reading for those not particularly interested.
While I enjoyed the many different languages Eco employed to tell his story – the English version incorporating Latin, Italian and German as well – it would be a difficult read for those not quite as obsessed with languages as I am. Despite having studied Latin and German for many years, I still had to bring out the dictionary a few times, in addition to Googling translations for the Italian segments.
Despite having been published in 1980, the prose definitely fools you into thinking it was written for a much earlier time. It is beautifully done and even makes the huge passages devoted to academia almost readable!
It was a bit of a shock ending, which I always enjoy, but also a little devastating….
I would recommend this book, but not for everyone. You have to be a dedicated reader, and a love of languages won’t hurt. I will admit that I skipped a lot of the dense religion-focused passages, but they do raise interesting points. Next time I read a classic though, I might stick with an Austen. While it was a good book, sometimes it did feel like I was reading a textbook on medieval religion, and that wasn’t always fun! Still, the mystery element was very enjoyable and the characters varied and intriguing.