Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose

July 30, 2013

614zY60Y4oL._AA160_Having recently re-watched the film – effectively atmospheric and a pretty faithful rendering of the book, though inevitably cutting and oversimplifying the plot and changing some details for visual effectiveness – I decided to return to the novel. This was, I think, the fifth time I’ve read it, and it retains its place in my top three novels of the twentieth century.

One always notices different things with re-reads, and this time I tried hard to make my way through all the heresies and religious conflicts, with some success. I was aided by a wonderful little book called The Key to The Name of the Rose, which translates all the non-English parts of the text for the reader, as well as explaining various issues and personalities in more depth: it enabled me to read more carefully and closely, and I was surprised by what I’d missed in earlier readings (or perhaps forgotten…)

Eco is at his best in the mediaeval world he knows and loves (Baudolino is his next-best novel, I think) and he brings it vividly to life as he creates sympathy and understanding for most of his characters: we do come to see just how differently people saw and interpreted the world in the fourteenth century.

He successfully weaves at least three plots together: the political and religious issues involving the papacy and the empire, the quest for Aristotle‘s missing book On Comedy, and a series of murders in the monastery which involved either this missing book or some secret documents relating to a heretic and his followers. He clearly loves Sherlock Holmes, and his main character and his companion are obvious tributes to Conan Doyle‘s heroes.

The novel is also marvellously structured: old documents seen, transcribed and then lost; the tale told by the ageing Adso who was the teenage companion and assistant of William of Baskerville in the events of the story; his reflections on his past, his solitary life as a monk, his idea of love; how the story which fascinates us for five hundred pages was almost never written…

There’s an originality here – the mediaeval setting has, of course, been frequently copied since this novel was first published – the unashamed intellectualism interwoven with the plot, and the desire to have the reader reflect on things eternal even if s/he is an unbeliever, which make this a truly outstanding novel. And I still get a lump in my throat as I come to the end.

3 Responses to “Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose”

  1. […] once again, I’m brought back to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose: the young Adso and the older, wiser William and their adventure together, in that mediaeval world […]


  2. […] not for everyone and not an easy read, but if you’ve enjoyed The Name of the Rose, I highly recommend this as a marvellous yarn, full of surprises, knowledge and entertainment, and […]


  3. […] a kind of meta-fiction here too, a book about a book or books, such as we find in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, in various of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories, in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: