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Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

This is going to be a tricky one to talk about. I would have gotten around to reading The Name of the Rose eventually, but university made it a more urgent read. I had heard of it before: when I first became a film fan, I looked up Sean Connery's back catologue, which included the film adaptation of this book; as such, I was aware that it was a murder mystery set in a medieval monastery. I think those preconceptions may have been slightly off.

The Name of the Rose follows two monks, a former inquisitor named William of Baskerville and his novice travelling partner Adso. Whilst travelling across Europe, they stop at a Benedictine monastery in order to participate in a theological dispute between the Spiritual Franciscans and representatives of the Pope of the time on the subject of poverty. Their visit is given extra purpose when the abbot asks for Brother William's assistance following the mysterious death of an illuminator.
So I guess what I should talk about is my opinion of the plot. That's where I have to stop and mention that I am still trying to figure out what I just read. I suppose the simplest way that I can put it is that The Name of the Rose is part murder mystery, part examination of politics within the Catholic Church of 1327. It's an odd combination to say the least, but that does at least give me a structure with which to look at the plot with.
In terms of a murder mystery, it's well-structured and makes sense, but part of me is still unsatisfied with it. On the one hand, it has some interesting red herrings and a twist that I would never have seen coming, as well as ultimately making sense; on the other hand, I'm of the opinion that a good murder mystery will allow the reader an opportunity to piece together their own theory about the murderer, a process that is made difficult when some of the clues provided are in Latin. I don't know about you, but I can think of only one person I know out of my entire circle of friends and family who knows Latin to any great degree, and most of the Latin that pops up isn't translated; I kind of feel like the audience is put at a disadvantage because of this. Now that I think about it, the inclusion of particular Latin phrases doesn't necessarily make sense, seeing as the implication is that, unless stated, everyone is speaking Latin anyway, it being the common language used in the Catholic Church of the time; if you wanted to draw attention to a particular phrase, then why not use italics or speech marks as opposed to Latin? It seems less out of place and doesn't confuse the majority of your audience either.
In terms of the examination of politics, it's an interesting look at corruption within the Church, and the thin line that separates a pious saint from the crazy Bible thumpers that we are still unfortunately stuck with. In the past I have made obvious my liking for explorations of the internal politics of social strata or organisations, and this is no exception, although it is a little more blatant than I am used to. The explicit discussions about politics is largely to do with the question of whether monks should practice poverty as a means of emulating Jesus; on the one hand, there is no Scripture specifically stating that Jesus was poor, but on the other, it looks kinda bad if you tell people to practice charity whilst hoarding gold and jewels for yourself. The more implicit examination of politics is the question of what lengths should people go to in order to accumulate or censor knowledge. I would discuss this one further, but it's sides are somewhat less well-defined.

Like I said at the beginning, The Name of the Rose is an odd one to talk about. It's undeniably a well-written book, if a tad slow in parts, but there is a fundamental question that I'm finding difficult to answer: who would I recommend this to? I suppose I would recommend it to people who are looking for a murder mystery with a bit more challenge to it, but I would also say that they should keep in mind the many discussions of doctrine; if you just want a pure and simple mystery, then this probably isn't for you. I guess I would recommend it to people who are looking for something to challenge the mind, so long as you're willing to put in the extra work of translating the bits of Latin left unchanged. Personally, this has made me want to watch the film version, as I'm utterly confused as to how this got adapted to film. 3.5/5

Next review: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

Signing off,

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