I knew next to nothing about The Name of the Rose when I first decided to read it. I knew it was set during the Middle Ages and that it was an accurate portrayal of the way people perceived the world back then, but I had no idea what the plot was, what the characters were like, and so on and so forth. You could have told me I’d be reading a chronicle about the slow progression from the Roman latifundium and into the feudal system and I’d have most likely believed you. And I certainly wouldn’t have imagined it to be both a gripping thriller and a thought-provoking treatise on philosophy and theology all at once.
The story is told by an elderly monk who reminisces on the week he spent accompanying William of Baskerville, his mentor and father’s friend, at a monastery. Baskerville’s initial mission is to intercede before the Pope’s men in order to get him to acknowledge Franciscan poverty as a legitimate Christian doctrine. However, he’s quickly swept up into a whirlwind of deaths, all mysterious and apparently all connected to the abbey’s library- a library the otherwise very open abbot has forbidden them to visit.
Everything about this book blew me away. From the painstakingly detailed description of a XIV century West European abbey and life within its walls, to the portrayal of the conflicts shaking the once upon a time unmovable Christian Church right to the core, passing through the way it reflected upon books; it was all so brilliantly crafted and depicted that it left me staring at the final page for several minutes before closing the book, more than just a little dazed and not quite sure how I was feeling. Now, a couple of days later, I think I’m ready to elaborate on the effects The Name of the Rose had on me.
On one hand, it helped me get a better grasp on notions I had seen in class but had not really understood, finding them much too abstract and complicated at the time. It was an invaluable company to my Europe I and Spanish Lit classes, only a lot more fun and a lot less restrictive- don’t get me wrong, I like the material I read for class. But my inner ‘I-want-to-read-what-I-want-when-I-want-it’ rebellious reader is often put off when I’m on a deadline. Especially when I’m supposed to analyze and dissect texts I’d like to absorb slowly, at my own pace. So yeah, it was a relief to sink into a work of fiction I didn’t have to analyze, one I could simply enjoy and wonder and work out theories about. And of course, because of that, I absorbed said notions, said mindset, without even realizing that I was.
And then there’s the numerous passages dedicated to books. Oh, my. I didn’t just read these, I devoured them. Books were still such a novelty back in the XIV century, and it was enthralling to explore different opinions on something that is now an intrinsic part of my life, hell, an intrinsic part of who I am, but was once almost a taboo. It made me wonder- Why do I read? Why is the information contained in a book so precious to me? It reminded me of the fact that a book is nothing without a reader, that the words held in it are nothing but syntax if somebody doesn’t open it and is willing to give it the time and effort required to make it something more. It showed me, more than anything, the unique relationship between writer, reader and book. It reminded me of what a powerful, somewhat threatening tool knowledge is- and therefore why books have been both cherished and destroyed throughout history. The ‘library-as-a-labyrinth’ metaphor will certainly go down in my books as one of the most beautiful, accurate descriptions of the mysteries and wonders a library holds.
This was my first time reading this novel, but it won’t be the last. I want to come back to it after taking Latin next semester, after learning more about medieval politics and religion, after having the time to let the seeds it planted grow and want more.
Disclaimer: This is not the guest blogger post previously mentioned. Caro’s review of this book can be found here.
I first read The Name of the Rose about four years ago. I was just hired at Half Price Books in Humble as a bookseller and was totally stoked over my employee discount and having the opportunity to spend forty hours a week basking in the glory of the literature section. I say basking, but in reality I was frantically shelving books completely convinced that this dream job would get yanked right from under my feet – something like too good to be true shock.
My sister had read Umberto Eco’s work when she was in college, I always imagine it was one of the last books she read on her own before before she started to have problems with her vision, but that could be a complete fabrication of my own mind. She loved it and was excited to hear that I had stumbled across the book and felt the pull of intrigue on my soul. You know that feeling when you first find something or someone you know you will fall in love with but you don’t know when or why, you just know its going to happen? That’s the feeling I got the moment Eco’s book first hit my hands.
And I did fall in love. The Name of the Rose is genius, Umberto Eco is a genius. I eagerly read through each line, so excited about what would come next, thrilled to pieces at the idea of a library being a labyrinth in a spooky monestery. I was in love page after page until I settled on the very last line with a deep sigh at its ending “stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that upon first reading, that last line’s deep sigh wasn’t just a lament over the ending of the book, it was also one of complete puzzlement and disastifaction in not fully understanding the meaning behind that last line, but knowing that of course there must be one. Insert googling the quote, briefly reading a few things, being sad over the fact that I didn’t catch a literary reference on the first try because I’d never been exposed to Bernard whoever in my life, therefore wouldn’t have caught the reference the first time through, regardless of my intelligence level, and now you have a full visual of that deep sigh. I haven’t read Bernard of Cluny’s (or is it Morlay, I find multiple references naming the author as Morlay instead of Cluny – clearly I need to brush up on my Medieval History) De Contemptu Mundi, but seeing how Eco wrote his very own ode to the concept behind the work (corruption of institutions, religion, and humanity), I’m dying to give it a try.
After reading The Name of the Rose, I devoured Foucault’s Pendulum, and began collecting everything Eco had ever penned. Not long after, I sat down with Baudolino and Six Walks in the Fictional Woods. So clearly, when a twitter follower mentioned doing a readathon of The Name of the Rose over the Easter holidays in 2012, I jumped at the chance to meander through the work that first introduced me to an author I will cherish for a lifetime.
Because I had already read The Name of the Rose before, I decided that this time I would read through my copy of The Key to The Name of the Rose, a handy dandy guide to all the references and phrases that I didn’t have the first time around. I stumbled across it while shelving Literary Criticism about two years after my first dive into Eco. In the introduction of this little guide, the authors recommend reading through the book in seven consecutive nights, taking an evening to read each day that passes in the adventure of William and Adso. I don’t remember how long it took me to read through The Name of the Rose the first time (probably awhile, spending half the time refreshing my high school Latin), but as I re-read it for the readathon over the course of 2-3 days, I agree that there are some lovely benefits to reading it all at once.
For starters, the story stays really fresh and you don’t have to back peddle at all. No double checking to see if that part you read two nights ago is still there. (You know you do that too sometimes, even though the book is clearly the same size it was before, has the same number of pages, sometimes you feel the need to breeze through the parts you already read to make sure you didn’t dream something up in the interem.) You don’t feel as inclined to re-check any translations you did, its fresh, its right, you only have so long to read this next portion, so get on with the story.
On top of that, while reading it all at once, I noticed how familiar William of Baskerville is to me. Maybe I’ve just been saturated with Agatha Christie this year, but I never noticed before how much William is a little bit Sherlock Holmes, a little bit Hercule Poirot, and all those fabulous sleuths we’ve enjoyed with over the years. William is prone to shouting things like “Fantastic! More and more interesting!” before chasing after some unknown clatter and stumbling across Indiana Jones-like puzzles to be deciphered with the help of his sidekick. (Ok, so Adso doesn’t resemble the asian kid Short Round at all, but you gotta admit he is a little bit like Arthur Hastings all the way down to his distraction when it comes to the ladies.)
All in all, I enjoy The Name of the Rose every time I read it. I can’t wait to see what Carolina Cuicci has to say in her guest blog post and I hope you’ll come and read through her post with me. And maybe, when we have a readathon for The Island of the Day Before, you’ll join us.
A Guest Blogger!
A fellow tweet peep suggested a Name of the Rose readathon for this weekend, which I am enjoying immensely! Goal: complete Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose during Easter Weekend. Caro is a university student, voracious reader, and fellow blogger of Reading Against The Clock (http://readingagainsttheclock.blogspot.com/). This is a re-read of The Name of the Rose for me, so I am excited to be able to post a review by someone seeing Eco with fresh eyes! Caro is posting updates of her reading experience throughout the weekend, so please go check out Reading Against the Clock, but don’t forget to come back here for the Official Review!