Friday, October 7, 2011

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco


Man, what a slog.  This book clocks in at 536 pages (including author's postscript).  The story itself could be told in about 200 pages, maybe less.  The rest of the book is pretty much just detailed descriptions, accounts of dreams, and soliloquies on various religious topics.  I never thought a bunch of Benedictine monks--supposedly dedicated to silence--could spend so much time speechifying.  Then again, perhaps I ought to have expected a fair amount of pontificating in a story so focused on the tensions between Rome and Avignon.  (Etymological rimshot!)

I realize that these extended periods of discussion and description were a stylistic choice.  Eco, a semiologist, is using the novel to showcase his expertise using the medieval opera-buffa structure with its "long recitatives and elaborate arias."  (See Author's Postscript).  However, the knowledge of the artistic intent does not make these sections any easier--or more entertaining--to read. 

But perhaps I am not being fair.  I am admittedly not in the best position to appreciate this novel.  First of all, having heard it billed as "Sherlock Holmes in a medieval monastery", I was undoubtedly expecting something more akin to Doyle's terse, plot-heavy, and action-packed writing.  Which this is most assuredly not.  Second, a novel this stylistic and slow-moving is clearly meant to be ingested at a leisurely pace, possibly in a large overstuffed armchair.  With a snifter of brandy (or a mug of something hot).  In a dimly lit room.  With a crackling fire.  In the dead of winter.  I used it as a commuter book, reading snatches of it on the way to and from the office or during breaks, and I tend to get restless when my commuter books take too long to read, so I was ready to be done with this book long before I reached the end.

Speaking of endings, I have to say I was quite underwhelmed by the "big reveal."  The forbidden secret did not, in my opinion, live up to the hype.  The evils encountered on the journey were far more exciting than the final destination.  Especially since the "moral" arrived at by the book seems to be "enough of this 'truth' business already." 

Still, the action sequences, such as they were, were quite enjoyable and even compelling.  And the seemingly interminable discussions of poverty, dreams, books, heresy, and laughter were well-written, even if I didn't particularly enjoy reading them.  So while I might rate this only a two star book based on my personal enjoyment level, it gets three stars because it is well-written. 

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