(Italian Cover: http://www.formatbiz.it/post.php?id=3937)
For the right audience, this may be the perfect book. It’s a book that has been floating around in my consciousness for a long time, but I’ve generally avoided, and I have to imagine that that avoidance has served me well here because I really enjoyed it and appreciated it in a lot of ways. There’s also a younger version of me for more than one reason that would have not liked it, would not have had the patience or energy for it, and would not have wanted to take the book on its own terms.
This is a murder mystery set in the early 14th century at well-endowed Italian abbey. A recent string of deaths has brought a former inquisitor, William of Baskerville, and his young apprentice, Adso of Melk. But the novel is not simply the investigation into the murder, but follows along the path of intense religious and scholarly debate among different order of monks in the church at the time. This is a key distinction because in the commitment of these debates, there’s a clear set of conflicting views and orientations toward the world that help to spell out the complexity of thought and morality within the various brotherhoods of the Church, and how those conflicting and interweaving sets of beliefs have led and will lead away from the deaths and their implications.
The structure of the novel is also key to reading this book and working through its various mysterious. If I call in labyrinthine, I mean this in the classical sense. The distinctions between mazes and labyrinths are important here. Mazes are designed to be confusing and disorientating, while labyrinths, which have paths but not necessarily walls are designed to contemplative and suggest the proximity and distance along various ideas. So if you look at the shape of various labyrinths, you will find a dedicated path to followed methodically, and at various times this paths loops near to and far from past parts of the path as well as future parts of the path. This novel functions in similar ways. So while there is a need to solve the mystery of the deaths, this comes through not simply from a consideration of the physical evidence, but also the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual evidence. This might look at say, a body that implies a suicide, but the various forms of non-physical evidence might conflict in various ways. There’s the added complication of so many of these conversations happening among people who also believe strongly in spiritual and providential forms of evidence.
The novel is further structured across seven days (the traditional weeks) and chapters occur at the set hours on that set schedule. The setup for the novel is that it is merely a translated and updates text that was found by Eco in his youth, stolen from him by a spurned lover, and eventually recovered and validated by additional sources. But this is all window dressing, or more so a further complicating plot structure. No monk wrote this book, but I appreciate texts that play with authorship like this. This book is fairly long–500 or so pages–and complex in a lot of ways. There are a lot of meandering conversations, digressions, and additional threads to sort out, but it’s relatively straight-forward plot and narrative with a consistent narrator. It’s also absolutely brilliant. Be forewarned (as you could reasonably guess) that there are I believe zero female characters in this book. There are some implied servants and townsfolk, but the context of the book provides the clear reason for this choice.
(Header Photo: https://medium.com/@dsfish/book-review-the-name-of-the-rose-by-umberto-eco-265be0c09e79)