This is one of those books that you see on someone’s shelf, and you are impressed that they have — presumably — read it. It is a cultural touchstone, a translated historical classic of Italian literature that made of Umberto Eco a must-own author for all members of the intelligentsia.
I’ve been meaning to read it forever, and actually bought a copy seven years ago, because I want to be in the intelligentsia, too. How depressing, then, when I tried to read it, grew more and more confused and, frankly, bored, and abandoned it only a few chapters in.
I felt like a failure at reading, but at the same time, really didn’t care.
But it’s still been on my TBR, of course, and I knew that I would have that enormous feeling of virtue you get from doing something worthy, if not especially enjoyable, should I actually make my way through it, so I have been reading several chapters most every day for most of this year, and at last, oh happy day! At last, I am done.
And, huh. Sure, I feel good about it. I get why it became one of those badges of popular intellectual honour. I mean, it has sold more than 50 million copies! But the book itself was very, very long, and very very over-written, with way, way too many soliloquies and far too much medieval internecine Catholic politics to make it on my personal list of favourites.
The story deals with Friar William, a religious scholar in the fourteenth century, who heads to an Italian monastery expecting to take part in a dispute between two Catholic sects who disagree about the role of the Pope and the necessity of that pesky vow of poverty they’re all supposed to take. Upon his arrival, however, he and his narrator novice assistant, Adso, become embroiled in a murder mystery, as their colleagues begin to drop dead over the succeeding days, and it has something to do with the library.
But it isn’t the mystery that takes up the majority of all those 500+ pages, it is philosophy and Bible study and extended speeches from supercilious clerics and a history of the Catholic church on the march towards Inquisition. There are long, long scenes in which Adso contemplates the sins of the flesh, and there are even longer ones when religious imagery is painstakingly poured out onto the page and then even more painstakingly explained.
Did I like it? No. Especially when the climax — and I totally guessed the killer, though not the method; very clever — takes longer to resolve itself than Return of the King. But, as I thought I would, I feel very virtuous having at last read it; moreover, there were times where it definitely held me gripped with its expansive ideas, and I quite enjoyed William’s fumbling attempts at detection. So I’m doubly glad to have read it.
Also, I do love a library as a setting. There should be more books set in libraries. It just makes sense.
TBR DAY 88: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
GENRE: Medieval, Mystery, Philosophy, Religion, General Fiction, Historical Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 7 years.
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Definitely not, despite how impressive it would look to have it on my bookshelf, apparently.