I know! I haven’t talked about a book in ages! That’s because I’ve been creeping my way through The Name of the Rose for the past week, and it’s been like molasses (slow, difficult to take in large doses, but generally awesome). If you ever wanted to read some monkish philosophical musings and a murder mystery, but didn’t have the time to do both, MAN, this is not the book for you, because it’s 500+ pages, and not the small ones. But if you ever wanted to read some monkish philosophical musics and a murder mystery AT THE SAME TIME for reasons best kept to yourself, come on down.
This delicious monstrosity of a book is allegedly set down by Adso, an aging monk, describing a horrific and blood-bathed week he spent at an abbey in Italy as a novice. His master, the venerable William of Baskerville, had been called in for some other reason that I didn’t quite catch but whatever because it was political and we know how I am about those things, and the two arrive to find that one of the monks has been murdered. So William puts on his Private Investigator cap and sets about (slowly, and with many pauses for rhetorical asides) solving the mystery. Meanwhile, monks are dying at the rate of one a day.
Eco has been very thorough and, to be honest, I didn’t really give all his effort its due. There’s the whole chunk on the political history that I missed because I kind of skimmed it, and then there are these mind-numbingly detailed descriptions that list everything found in a room, which I also sort of skimmed, and then there’s this bizarre dream sequence, much of the significance you will only get if you keep the Bible inscribed on your eyelids (or if you feel like Wikipedia-ing everyone mentioned to see why Zaccheus sits in the boughs of a tree while Rachel sits on a bundle).
There are also short but disconcertingly frequent bursts of Latin. The Abbot will say something scathing, and then William of Baskerville, P.I., will retort in Latin and everyone will laugh. And I get it, they’re monks, it’s what they do, but throw me a freakin’ bone here. I want to laugh, too.
In addition to your Bible and your Latin-English dictionary, keep your good old Webster close to hand, because I found the words ‘adumbrates,’ ‘vicissitudes,’ ‘scholia,’ and ‘codicils’ all in one paragraph.
My favorite bits were the…I don’t even know what you’d call them. But each day is divided up into eight chapters, corresponding with the liturgical schedule of the monks (matins, vespers, compline, etc.), and then at the head of each chapter there’s a third-person intro, such as ‘Vespers: In which the abbot speaks again with the visitors, and William has some astounding ideas for deciphering the riddle of the labyrinth and succeeds in the most rational way. Then William and Adso eat cheese in batter.’ That one is my favorite, because when all the rest of them are all ‘In which more murders are discovered’ and ‘In which a book is lost, and not found for some days’ (also awesome, because even while Ados and William are searching for the book, you know they won’t find it, and it’s agonizing!) the inclusion of the cheese-in-batter just kills me.
Interspersed within all the murdering and clue-finding and politics and Latin are young Adso’s earnest questions and wily old William’s lengthy answers on the nature of faith, heresy, truth, love, books, poison, and napping during the day (which is like a sin of the flesh because the more you have, the more you want). I found this mostly interesting, but then for whole paragraphs I would glaze over, and have to go and re-read them because there was no guarantee that they didn’t contain some relevant clue. In Latin.
On the whole, I rather enjoyed it but I wish it hadn’t gone on for quite so long. And even though it’s a murder mystery (of sorts), it didn’t tear along at this great galumphing pace, but dawdled and lingered and mused, much like I imagine monks do. Which is largely the reason I’m not one (also: not being a dude).