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The Name of the Rose -- Umberto Eco Ghavrel Send a noteboard - 23/07/2010 01:26:32 AM
This is your typical mystery. This is not your typical mystery.

It is the Year of our Lord 1327. The narrator, one Benedictine novice by the name of Adso, has arrived at an unnamed monastery with his mentor, the Franciscan William of Baskerville. William has come to the monastery to assist in the mediation of a particularly thorny theological debate—whether Christ and His apostles ever owned property, separately or in common. What he and Adso fall into is a series of bizarre murders, which they both must investigate.

But enough of the basic plot. Eco is a notable postmodernist, and so this novel functions on a delightful number of levels. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that these levels were not the sharply delineated layers that crop up in so many modern works; it is unfortunately common to have a novel in which there is a noticeable separation between setting, plot, themes, and other elements of the story. The Name of the Rose is instead a brilliant tapestry, in which the plot is an organic outgrowth of the setting, the characters, and the themes—I suppose one could rather ironically call them “truths”—which I’ll discuss later. I don’t mean to say by this that the novel is low on plot, simply that the background elements seem so effortlessly and exceptionally done that they, and not some arbitrary need for a story, are what drive the plot. The plot itself is so rich that everything else can easily go unnoticed until the very end; indeed, I plan on rereading this novel again very soon.

It would be impossible to discuss all of the ways one might view this text—literally impossible, given Eco’s penchant for letting the reader construct meaning–so I’ll limit myself to two viewpoints that I intend to keep in mind on my next read.

Firstly, Eco’s love of intertextuality shines through in this work. William of Baskerville is described in terms virtually identical to a rather more famous detective…

"His height surpassed that of a normal man and he was so thin that he seemed still taller. His eyes were sharp and penetrating; his thin and slightly beaky nose gave his countenance the expression of man on the lookout, save in certain moments of sluggishness of which I shall speak. His chin also denoted a firm will, though the long face covered with freckles ... could occasionally express hesitation and puzzlement."
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

"In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination".
A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

(The above quotes are taken from Wikipedia.)

If the story has a center, it is the labyrinthine Library of the monastery, and this of course provides a wealth of links to other works. The book is replete with other languages, and knowledge of Latin is exceptionally helpful in getting the most out of the novel (though of course this is not necessary). Eventually, the reader begins to feel that everything in this novel is a reflection of other novels, and this constant looking through a glass darkly itself begins to reflect the library’s maze.

Secondly, The Name of the Rose functions almost as a textbook of postmodernism. Each of the characters—and the setting itself—provides us with an analogous method of viewing the world. The interaction of the characters essentially becomes the interaction of a great many literary and cultural theories, and it is tempting to view the novel as something of a Greek tragedy, in which it is truly cultural forces that clash, although they are clothed in the guise of people. However, to do so with The Name of the Rose is to ignore the rich, history-steeped plot.

This is a novel that can be reread many times. I urge everyone to read it at least once, and those who find it compelling to read it again, focusing on the complex ideas which extend throughout the work.

In summary: The Name of the Rose is a brilliant novel which can function as a wonderful historical mystery or a detailed introduction to postmodernism. The writing style is not complicated in and of itself, but Eco does not write large amounts of historical exposition. As such, knowledge of history—or a willingness to use Wikipedia now and then—goes a long way. Additionally, Eco unrepentantly includes frequent quotes in Latin and French, often without translation. However, a knowledge of these languages is not required. The Name of the Rose is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it to everyone, whether they’re seeking an entertaining (although not necessarily “light”) diversion or a more substantial, thought-provoking work.
"We feel safe when we read what we recognise, what does not challenge our way of thinking.... a steady acceptance of pre-arranged patterns leads to the inability to question what we are told."

Ghavrel is Ghavrel is Ghavrel


This message last edited by Rebekah on 29/07/2010 at 11:00:45 PM
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The Name of the Rose -- Umberto Eco - 23/07/2010 01:26:32 AM 5316 Views
Hm. Just read Foucault's Pendulum a while back. I intend to get on to this eventually. - 23/07/2010 07:24:39 AM 1443 Views
I started Foucault's Pendulum just last night. I know Tom loved it; what do you think? - 23/07/2010 07:34:28 AM 1376 Views
It is less ... organic? - 23/07/2010 10:21:51 AM 1308 Views
That's a pity. The cohesion of Name was spectacular. *NM* - 23/07/2010 11:17:52 AM 836 Views
Yes - 23/07/2010 11:23:28 AM 1325 Views
Yeah. - 23/07/2010 08:27:33 PM 1329 Views
Re: Yeah. - 23/07/2010 09:39:31 PM 1405 Views
It's a great book. - 23/07/2010 07:56:25 AM 1326 Views
I really should have emphasized that more. - 23/07/2010 08:33:20 AM 1292 Views
Re: I really should have emphasized that more. - 23/07/2010 04:19:23 PM 1327 Views
Re: It's a great book. - 23/07/2010 05:40:25 PM 1394 Views
It is, indeed, a lovely book - 23/07/2010 10:19:53 AM 1318 Views
It even made me respect postmodernism! Well, a little. Eco's variant. - 23/07/2010 11:22:02 AM 1327 Views
Re: It even made me respect postmodernism! Well, a little. Eco's variant. - 23/07/2010 11:24:18 AM 1340 Views
I didn't think you would. - 23/07/2010 05:20:04 PM 1227 Views
Re: I didn't think you would. - 23/07/2010 09:38:34 PM 1346 Views
Maybe. I hope so. *NM* - 24/07/2010 12:05:36 AM 768 Views
I'm going to re-read this again sometime in the next few months - 23/07/2010 02:29:29 PM 1330 Views
Good old Jorge of Burgos. - 23/07/2010 05:23:59 PM 1328 Views
Re: Good old Jorge of Burgos. - 23/07/2010 09:41:16 PM 1364 Views
Even when Eco states quite explicitly that some of it is so? - 23/07/2010 10:20:34 PM 1585 Views
Larry, Larry, Larry. It's all about the reader response. - 24/07/2010 12:10:07 AM 1640 Views
Re: I'm going to re-read this again sometime in the next few months - 23/07/2010 09:40:29 PM 1302 Views
That too - 23/07/2010 10:18:29 PM 1440 Views
Thanks to Rebekah for the cover image! *NM* - 23/07/2010 08:07:17 PM 798 Views
Free of charge. - 23/07/2010 09:44:19 PM 1294 Views
A very good review. This book definitely deserves a reread. *NM* - 26/07/2010 09:16:35 AM 842 Views
You see how smart I am when I'm at my laptop? - 26/07/2010 10:33:13 AM 1307 Views

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