Top positive review
It helps if you know Latin and the history of the Catholic Church
on September 5, 2017
The Name of the Rose is a combination of historical fiction, mystery, and philosophy.
William of Baskerville, a Franciscan monk, and his young scribe, Adso of Melk, a Benedictine, visit an abbey whose name is not revealed on some indeterminate business involving the major disputes within the church and among the various secular governments at the time. Shortly after their arrival, the abbot asks William, who apparently is also a former inquisitor, to investigate what is believed to be a murder at the abbey.
Over the course of the next seven days, several more murders take place. They decide early on that the first victim was actually a suicide, but the subsequent victims have obviously been murdered, and they come to suspect that there is some connection to a mysterious book, and to some set of conditions set out in the book of Revelation. They think they will find clues in the monastery’s library, which only a few people are allowed to enter, and which, it turns out is built as a labyrinth. William and Adso visit the library several times and, with some difficulty, manage to discover its secrets, but that is little help in the end for helping them solve the murders. And solving the murders is no help in either saving anyone else (either physically or spiritually) or otherwise improving anything else in that environment.
A large part of the book is spent in theological discussions and discussions of the religious and secular conflicts of the period. The story takes place toward the end of 1327. This was the time when there were two rival Popes, one in Avignon, France, and the other in Rome. Much is made of a philosophical difference between the Franciscans and the Benedictines. And at least half a dozen minor heretical movements are referenced. If you have an interest in the history of the Catholic Church, or a deep and detailed knowledge of it already, these parts of the book will doubtless make more sense to you. Also, a knowledge of Latin would be helpful, although it is not strictly necessary.
One of the highlights of the book is the conference between the Avignonese (mostly Benedictines, I think) and the Minorites (mostly Franciscans). In the middle of this conference, there is a fight (a physical fight) between them. And then, only a little bit later, another of the Abbey monks is discovered murdered, and another monk, who is currently serving as the cellarer of the Abbey (and whom William and Adso have already discovered has a somewhat checkered past doctrinally) is found in the room with him. This man is taken into custody and one of the Avignonese party, who is currently an Inquisitor, immediately puts him on trial. He maintains he is innocent of the murder, and it appears that he is. But the Inquisitor keeps hounding him anyway and eventually manages to convict him of heresy because of the places he has been and the people he has followed in the past. This is a revealing look at how an Inquisitor would have operated.
At the end there is a note from the author about how he wrote the book and such things as why all the complicated religious discussion. And keep an eye out – one of these religious discussions is actually pertinent to solving the mystery.