Friday, 10 April 2009

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

Read: January 2006

If you enjoy really dense literature – or just want to impress your friends with how intelligent you are – then this is the book for you. If not, then read The Da Vinci Code, it may not carry quite the same prestige as The Name of the Rose but it has the infinite advantage of being readable.

When Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. But it is the twelfth century and his mission is overshadowed by a series of bizarre deaths, and Brother William turns detective in an effort to bring an end to the unholyness gripping the monastery. As he collects evidence and deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts within the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, extraordinary things begin happening under the cover of night.

Probably the most ultimate joy for amateur code breakers ever written, Umberto Eco’s epic tale is a veritable haven for those interested in semiotics, history and theology. The only problem is that he is not a great writer: his prose is as dense as a moonless night, impenetrable and impossible to enjoy. There is no poetry in the language, and such distance from the action that you cannot at any time identify with any of the characters or situations. Reading it is like reading a twelfth century Latin manuscript – hard work.

There are many types of readers and many books to suit each of them. If you are someone who loves a complex, ingenious and intriguing mystery then this may be the perfect book for you. If you want to experience something of scholarly significance which reads exactly as if it were written by a devout twelfth century monk then you are in for a treat.

But for me I want a story to get lost amid words which leap from the page alive and complete. I struggled through to the completion of this book, and am pleased I did, for there is much to appreciate in it. But I will not read another Umberto Eco novel. It is too much like hard work. And though The Da Vinci Code is a million miles from a great novel, I would prefer to spend the rest of my life reading it, than this.

4.5 out of 10

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