Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Umberto Eco - The Name of the Rose

The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate.When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the over of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, The Name of the Rose is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages.

Comment: Several years ago, a certain national newspaper here had the initiative of releasing classic titles in a collection which was sold along the newspaper, during a specific period of time. This title was the first one to be published and, to captivate readers, was free if one bought the newspaper. 
I can't remember exactly when this was but at the time I had already watched the movie and was curious about the book it was based on.

In this book, set in the 14th century, we meet monk William of Baskerville and novice Adso as they travel to an abbey in Italy to investigate the possibility some heresy is on going there. What they find is a rich abbey, several monks dedicated to their tasks and prayers and also a dead man. 
During the seven days they stay at the abbey, seven monks die and the mystery surrounding their deaths seems too complex to untangle. At the same time, political actions will be taking place there and there's also the allure of the amazing library, where secrets abound and monks dedicate their time to translate and design the perfect work.
What is really happening in the abbey? Is the killer the same person who is the culprit of heresy?
How can the truth be discovered?

I had a good time reading this novel. I thought it would be boring and difficult since the setting was the middle ages and unlike other authors of historical novels, Umberto Eco has a reputation for detail and some challenging writing.
However, I felt this wasn't so in regards of this novel, to me. I could focus on reading this story and it was not only a good mystery but also a great take on religion and philosophy in general.

I must say the political setting, the conversations about heresy and the machinations within European countries/kingdoms to make things happen weren't very interesting, simply because this is not the type of intrigue I like to read about. It was a little bit boring, in fact, but thankfully it wasn't the main focus of this novel and I could overcome those parts well.

This is not a story for one to settle on the characters' development nor how they improve or whatever.
The characters embody a certain emotion/trait/belief but I still think they were fleshed enough to be convincing and to make me wonder about what would happen next.
This story is based on a manuscript the author got and that he decided t expand, deconstruct somehow to offer readers and easier reading. I don't think most people (or most of the target audience of this fictional book) would be really concerned where the story came from, but it did add a bit more interest for me to think a monk centuries past might have lived through what now seems like a well imagined plot.

Like I said, the story is basically divided into two segments: the investigation of the murder and the
search for heretic monks within the abbey. Obviously, the two things do have some connection but to me the wonder in this book was not so much the method to look for clues - it's a really poor imitation on nowadays' CSI tactics - but the considerations everyone has on several subjects and how some things are food for thought, how others can be seen as red herrings and the doubts are installed through the book. I'd say that, for those devoted to crime books, looking at this through thriller eyes, the villain is actually very obvious.

I really was rooting for William and Adso, as they went through their days investigating, being William a former inquisitor for the Inquisition who now didn't do it anymore, and Adso personifying the "green" guy in all this, learning from the master.
The Portuguese cover
We get to learn a lot about their personalities as they investigate and discover things and how each new clue and all its meanings affect their ideas and their beliefs.
My favorite parts were all the considerations they had and did on religion - which we know was even stricter than in current days - and philosophy. I also liked how much talk there was on books, on translation and libraries and knowledge. It was a feast for my literary taste.

Some readers have said it's too obvious how the author put his ideas and self knowledge on all these subjects in the novel and that it forces readers to follow his ideas and not an hypothetical scenario. To be honest, I don't care if this is so; I had a great time reading, I liked most of the story's content and the pace was slow but believable, the writing challenging in the sense it was rather inquisitive instead of action packed but to me it worked wonderfully.
I'm very curious to see the movie again (I did decades ago) after having this much richer perspective.

The end of this book was a little sad and my current preferences would have liked the author to make things end differently but at the same time, it's believable for the type of setting the characters were in. I don't think I'd say this considering the rather demanding task that certainly is to read the work of this author but I will definitely try another book by him, some day!
Grade: 8/10

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