on August 1, 2000
One reviewer here on Amazon was right on the money when he said that reading a novel by Umberto Eco instantly raises your IQ by a couple of points. The Name of the Rose has been my first encounter with Eco's work, and I was for the most part very impressed with his skillful murder mystery set in a 14th century Italian monastery.
The novel works on many levels. It is a compelling murder mystery, as young narrator Adso of Elk accompanies the wise William of Baskerville as he uses logic and semiotics to not only solve a murder mystery, but to decipher labrynths and hidden secrets of the vast monastery library. Interwoven with the murder mystery is a virtual course on philosophy and late Middle Ages religion, as Eco provides detailed accounts of the histories of various sects, includes scholarly debate on topics such as the poverty of Christ, and a history of the Catholic Church leading to the establishment of a papacy in Avignon, France.
One is reminded of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as William and Adso use logic and determination to piece together numerous bizarre deaths and occurences at the Abbey, while encountering obstacles and outright hostility by the Abbot and his librarian, to name a couple. The setting of the novel, and the glimpse into a culture that few of us can even imagine, is reason enough to read The Name of the Rose.
The book is not without its faults however. I think the book should stand alone, (ie you should not have to buy a separate "reader's guide") and I was very frustrated at the numerous Latin phrases that are included throughout the novel with no translation. Perhaps this is more the fault of the translator than Eco himself, but it makes for a difficult reading experience. One does not need to know the meaning of every word in the book to follow the plot, but it is aggravating to stumble across paragraph-long passages or insciptions that are completely foreign to most readers, without so much as a footnote. There are also fairly long digressions involving topics of religious debate or history of minor sects that, in my opinion, were extraneous and contributed little overall to the success of the novel. However, overall, I thought the novel was rewarding, both informative and suspenseful.
on October 10, 1999
I'd like to add to the many reviews of this book only a few comments about the meaning of the famous Latin sentence "Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus". Literaly it can be translated as "The ancient rose subsists thanks to its name, we have only bare names". It is an ancient sentence often quoted by s.c. nominalist philosophers of Middle Ages who thought that our mind isn't able to discover the true essence of things and so it isn't able a fortiori to have the minimum idea of God. In fact in medieval philosophy God was often compared to the figure of a rose; the nominalists wanted to say with the sentence that even God, the supreme being, persists only through its name, i.e. persists upon an extremely frail thing. Names were seen as simple "flatus vocis", "emission of voice" without value. The nominalist philosophers who declared that even God was a flatus vocis were condemned as heretics (a theme that recurs often in the novel). But here the sentence isn't quoted only for its historical value, but also because it can be applied also to the love of the young monk Adso; he meets in the monastry a young woman and perhaps falls in love with her. In his mind she is just the "rose", i.e. God, of whom he doesn't know the name (the woman and Adso speak different languages). It is then a very pitiful and sad thing that of the woman he doesn't know the name, because, if nominalist theories were true, he won't be able to keep with him, in his heart and mind, in his future life and old age, the remembrances of that encounter and of those days which changed his life and mind forever (cf. the pages of the novel where the old Adso comments on those evets).
on May 22, 2000
It is November, 1327. Adso of Melk, the narrator, has accompanied William of Baskerville to a remote, wealthy Franciscan abbey in the mountains of northern Italy. Upon arriving, William discovers that a murder has taken place and the body of the monk, Adelmo, has been discovered outside the abbey walls. The abbot, Abo, is very concerned and charges William with solving the murders. For, not only is the safety of the monks in jeopardy, a papal delegation from Pope John XXII in Avignon could well use the murders as an excuse for investigating the abbey, something Abo definitely wants to avoid. By the time the papal delegation, led by two inquisitors arrives, the situation at the abbey has worsened. Two more monks are dead and two more die soon afterward. The abbot's worst fears are realized when the papal inquisitors learn he has been sheltering monks who were once followers of the condemed heretic, Fra Dolcino. Although the abott dismisses Willliam, he remains and a few hours later, the mystery is solved, two more monks have died and the monastery has been consumed by fire. The Name of the Rose is first and foremost a mystery of the highest order, and it is possible to enjoy it on that level alone. But it is also a charming roman a clef, something I think many readers have missed. We don't have to look far to realize Sherlock Holmes in the guise of William of Baskerville or Adso as Dr. Watson. The blind Spaniard, Jorge of Burgos is easily recognized as the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. Eco also challenges us by thinly disguising figures from postwar Italian politics as various other members of the abbey. The figures in the book thus correspond to other figures in different books or in real life. Each figure also represents a metaphysical concept: William, reason; Adso, mysticism; Jorge, evil, and then, in true medieval fashion, characters are thus pitted one against the other as opposing forces. I hate to see comparisons of this marvelous work of literature to Iain Pears's, An Instance of the Fingerpost. The books are as unlike as night is to day. While An Instance of the Fingerpost goes to great lengths to point out that ultimate truth does exist and can, indeed, be realized, The Name of the Rose is, at its heart, a book about uncertainty, especially the uncertainty of truth. In An Instance of the Fingerpost, the reader is asked to interpret a collection of signs and symbols, which, when interpreted in the one correct manner, will inevitably lead to the identity and motive of the criminal, i.e., the truth. In The Name of the Rose, the search for ultimate truth is far more ambiguous. Near the end of the book, William tells Adso that many hypotheses, false though they may be, can still lead one to a correct solution. And, while certainty is what's pursued in An Instance of the Fingerpost, certainty remains an impossibility in The Name of the Rose. As William says to Adso, "The only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from the insane passion for the truth." Umberto Eco's strength lies in his plotting and his layering. His books are like a collection of boxes, each one opening to reveal yet another and another. I found no such layering in An Instance of the Fingerpost. And, finally, while An Instance of the Fingerpost was certainly a phenomenon, The Name of the Rose is definitely much more. This book is literature, a timeless classic to be enjoyed by many generations yet to come.
on October 7, 2010
There's nothing like reading a book by an expert. I don't mean an expert writer, but a book written by a man who breathes the subject he's writing about. An expert writer might have fouled this up, but Eco is a master of medieval history.
The Name of the Rose is narrated by a dying monk, Adso, who wishes to set the facts straight on events he had a small part in back in the early 1300s.
Adso, a Benedictine monk was apprenticed to William of Baskerville, a Franciscan Friar with a gift for observation and a keen wit. Adso plays Watson to William's Sherlock, and serves as an able foil and unassuming witness to the events that transpire.
While travelling, William and Adso stop at a rather unique monastery, where the tale picks up. The monastery itself would probably be ordinary, if it weren't for the library it hosts, which turns out to be a labyrinth, with a secret room. It also happens to be forbidden for anyone but the librarian to enter, much to William's chagrin.
William is asked by the abbot, a man named Abo, to investigate a recent death: a novice has fallen to his death recently. William accepts readily, and focuses his energies on discovering why and how young Adelmo went head over teakettle.
There is a reasonably large cast of characters here, and for a new author (at the time), Eco does a marvelous job of characterization. I can still picture William, Adso, Ubertino, Malachi, Abo, Bernard, and especially Jorge, all in my mind's eye.
The murder mystery, is mostly an aside. William is there for a meeting, between himself and other monks who find themselves out of favor in the Pope's eyes. Here we find monks as men, who commit all kinds of sins, think all kinds of sinful thoughts, and find all sorts of reasons to justify them.
Philosophy and history are thick on these pages, with debates about whether Christ laughed, or whether the Church (and Christians) should or should not live in poverty; all manner of heresies of the time; knowledge, its benefits and dangers; and contests of power between the Pope, the Benedictine, Franciscan, and Dominican orders, and the Holy Roman Emperor. Of all things, laughter brings the house down.
It has been a long time since I've read a novel of such depth, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It is laced with Latin and symbolism, its love scene is depicted in the language of the Bible's Song of Songs, and Adso even shares an apocalyptic dream worthy of Revelation. The Name of the Rose is truly a remarkable achievement, and I will never question its place on my shelf.
on February 19, 2012
This is a difficult novel to recommend to the average reader of historical fiction. The basis is an in depth analysis of the history of monks, of all denominations, and their effect on politics and religion during the upheaval of the Vatican. It is intertwined with a Sherlock Holmes style mystery that underscores the foundation of devotion this period produced in these religious groups. It is not an easy read, you must have an interest in these subjects to enjoy this book. I could not recommend this book to anyone who wants an historical overview with a bit of fiction to keep up interest. It is difficult and deep but worth it if you are into a serious lesson.
on January 28, 2014
The world probably doesn't need another review of the book itself, a quirky and erudite murder mystery-within-a-maze-mystery-within-a-philosophical-discussion set in a monastery in 1327. I am not generally a reader of mysteries as a genre, but I have read this book several times since it came to English in 1983, and I always come back to it with pleasure, despite suspecting that I might not be smart enough for it. If you are not familiar but curious, there is a helpful Wiki article on "The Name of the Rose," and lots of reviews all over the Web.
What one wants to know about a Kindlized book is whether it is properly formatted and functional. This one is, with a bare minimum (if not none) of the typos which Kindlizations are heir to. The table of contents works (and that's important in this case). I give it four stars instead of five only because it doesn't include the author's interesting Postscript, and because of something which is not really the Kindle's fault: Part of the story hinges upon diagrams of the geometry of the central plot setting, and the Kindle is a bit small for these. Here I was moved to get out my original 8x5 print copy. The Kindle is prime when the only pictures are the ones formed in your head.
on October 29, 2005
I don't have the benefit of a college education, yet I found this an easy read. Don't be scared off by some of the other reviews. The latin passages don't hinder the book's plot or its history lessons nor does the book's introduction, as extraneous as it may be.
The Middle Ages or Age Of Faith is mysterious to most of us because we live in a time in which the study of our past is not valued by our public education system. However, some of us, for whatever reasons, have not had our curiosity for the non-commercial squashed by our consumption driven pop-culture. We want to know about things other than what phone numbers Paris Hilton has stored in her PDA. And if you're one of these curious people who likes to learn about the new or the old, you may wish to consider The Name Of The Rose. No, this book isn't literature, as others have pointed out, but it is a guilty read for those of us who actually enjoy reading non-fiction history. And for those of us who don't, it's a painless way of getting a good dose of the Middle Ages.
And if you're one of those history buffs curious about the political power struggles that took place in Europe during the 13th century between popes, emperors, and the various orders of monks, as well as everyday life in one of their monastaries, then this is definitely the book for you.
It's made entertaining by an albeit conventional mystery plot, so if you're an ardent reader of contemporary mysteries without an interest in history, you may want to pass on this one, although I admit you may be part of the audience for whom Umberto wrote the book.
Forget the movie version of THE NAME OF THE ROSE. This brilliant book by Umberto Eco is meant to be read, absorbed, considered, held close to your chest before you reluctantly put it down. Filled with complexities - philosophy, historical details, superb characterizations - it does not make for easy reading. I'm a seasoned reader of classics and literary fiction, and yet I struggled through the first pages. What a mistake it would have been to give up! Once I reached page 50 or so, I couldn't put it down.
By now, the plot is well known: a monk and his young assistant (the narrator) arrive at a monastery to investigate heresy at the height of the Inquisition. No sooner do they arrive when their focus is shifted to a series of mysterious murders. Who is behind the atrocious acts, and why? Is there greater meaning to the deaths than first appears?
While the suspenseful plot keeps the story moving forward at surprising speed (surprising, given the language and wealth of historical details), the philosophy of the era is the soul of the novel, lending credulity to the characters and their situations as well as having implications for those living in the 21st century. Issues of censorship, free thought, the power of the written word, and the need for rational thought in chaotic times all come into play.
THE NAME OF THE ROSE is a magnificent example of fiction destined to last. I highly recommend it for serious readers of all tastes.
on December 30, 2003
This is not a proper review, more a couple of comments about things which the first few reviewers missed (I didn't read all 157 reviews).
One of Umberto Eco's perennial themes, expressed elsewhere in essays, is what he sees as the the similarity between the society of the "dark ages" and that of today. For instance he draws explicit parallels between the heretics and utopian communities of the past and contemporary cults such as Jim Jones, the SLA, the Red Brigades and so forth. This book needs to be read in the light of that; it's not just a historical novel about monks.
There are also obvious references to the work of Borges in this novel, as well as to Sherlock Holmes (William of Baskerville?).
And of course the theme of rationalism versus superstition (not to mention religious war) has been brought into considerably sharper focus by world events since the book was written.
Overall, I can't see why people regard this as a hard book to read. Although there is a lot of historical background, (accurate rather than as some have suggested pseudo-philosophical or invented) it's presented in a vivid and entertaining way, the story keeps you turning the pages, and it's surely the only serious novel to include a recipe for fried cheese.
on July 23, 1999
I loved this book when I first read it 6 years ago so much that it was one of the few things I took with me when I came to US. Reading NR is a many-fold experience, so many reviews are right about it. However I was deeply disappointed with the way Eco is published in English. You see, my Russian edition has about 70 pages of comments ranging from historical to theological ones. Who in this modern world remembers Dolcino or a difference between katars and minorites ?? It is nice when a reader is well versed in both Latin, medieval Deutch and some Italian but at least my Russian translator and editors went to great pains to help me, a reader, along the way. You can see so many comments (read those about "Pendulum", for example) that blame Eco for being a pompous intellectual while it is really the result of modern day education that does not prepare an average reader to deal with such a multi-layered work. Otherwise we would not have people asking about the meaning of last words in novel.
Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.
With the past name of rose, names are shed (naked) in future.