Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

So... the latest Savidge Reads Big Reads (nee Savidge Big Weekenders) and one which as I mentioned on Monday I very nearly came to give up on. However despite my initial struggles with The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco I carried on (struggling) right until the end. Was it worth it? In honesty the jury is still out on that for me to be I don’t think I have ever felt so confounded by a book or so annoyed that I found a book so difficult.

The Name of the Rose is set in 1327 in an Italian monastery where Monks are dying in mysterious ways. In a time where the Catholic Church is dividing and differing Catholic communities are accusing each other of heresy emotions are running high. Brother William of Baskerville and his companion, and the narrator, Adso arrive after the first death and turn detective and sidekick as they try to unravel the mystery. Now this makes it sound like your average historical murder mystery but it is so much more than that.

Umberto Eco’s novel is undoubtedly a masterpiece, however for me it was an alienating one. Unlike when I read The Blind Assassin a few weeks ago the hard work didn’t seem to pay of with The Name of the Rose. I am not a religious person, I have nothing against it at all – the Non-Reader is Catholic, but I do find the history of religion interesting. However when the history of it is told for five pages a chapter and the same stories of heretics and the anti-Christ are reworded and repeated making what would be a great 250 page mystery into a 500 epic even a die hard theologist would have trouble with this book.

The prose is stunning though in all honesty I think Eco might work by the rule of ‘why use one word when I can use a paragraph’. The interspersed Latin I found slightly pretentious and a bit ‘look how clever I am and you aren’t’ which slightly alienates a reader, well it did me anyways. I don’t want a book to make me feel stupid. Now bare in mind I know some Latin, my mother being a Latin, Classics and English Literature teacher, I am not even someone who has no knowledge of it and I found it grated on me and to only then be reworded in English just seemed like more words to bulk up the book.

I also never felt I got to know the characters as there were so many of them and though I did really like Brother William of Baskerville and Adso as characters I never quite felt on side with them because sure enough one of them would soon be spouting paragraphs of Eco-isms and I would be put of them for a fair few pages. As for all the other characters well with all the similar names I would sometimes think that they were talking to a character that I would suddenly realise had been dead for a few pages. Back to the positive however I thought the book had moments of genius, the mystery and suspense was wonderful when it was in the book and not being shrouded by Eco-isms. Joining William and Adso as they ventured through the dark twisting labyrinth of corridors, secret passages, turrets and the amazing library of the monastery did have me on the edge of my seat. I just wish the whole book had been like that, that would have been superb.

I would give the book 2.5/5 it wasn’t awful (I hate giving bad reviews - I try and see the best in all books, especially when I have always wanted to read them and when the Non-Reader has bought me a book... a very rare event) and had moments of spell binding brilliance but to me it was as my mother (it’s normally my Gran that is famous/infamous on this blog) said only yesterday “oh I thought that book was a really good mystery surrounded by pretentious twaddle” and I have to say I think she was right. Though don’t tell her that I wouldn’t hear the end of it! She also said “it’s one of the rare books that is better as a film” I shall find out as I have ordered it from Lovefilm to see if it makes more sense that way.


Unknown said...

Congratulations on finishing it! It sounds like the kind of book that you can be proud of finishing, and is great to look back on, despite it not being a very enjoyable reading experience. I think I'll leave it a few years before attempting it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

OK, I am just tired hearing you talk about the energy and tenacity required to read it! I have heard SO much about the book and was pretty excited to hear about it from you. I don't mind working at a book that gives you your rewards at the end, but I'm not sure this one does that. Hmph.

Jo said...

At least you can say you've read it now! I likes the religious rambling aspect to it. But since I studied Joint hoours English and Relgious Studies, I think maybe this was the perfect book for me.

I know what you mean about the Latin though, and I know a bit too, due to a latin GCSE I took for some unfathomable reason! Lol.

Candy Schultz said...

I much preferred Foucault's Pendulum and I have read it twice and now you are making me think I want to read it again. It is nothing like The Name of the Rose.

Savidge Reads said...

Jackie - I must admit its a book I will be saying "oh I read that" quite a lot about, but still it vexes me somewhat it was such a let down overall the bones of it were marvellous.

Sandy _ I wouldnt write it off as I know lots of people who have loved it. I am much happier with my Precious Ramotswe book though.

Jo - I tried so so so so so so hard to love it I really did!

Candy - sadly I dont think anything (at the moment not forever) could make me read another Eco book even though I know your tastes are spot on.

Savidge Reads said...

I would actually like to add I bet this makes a cracking audiobook though.

Candy Schultz said...

I hated Name of the Rose but I loved Foucault's Pendulum. They are absolutely nothing alike. Pendulum is a wild romp whereas I saw Rose as a muddy slog.

claire said...

Aww.. I'm sorry it didn't work for you. The only one of his novels I haven't yet read is Foucalt's Pendulum so basing on all his other novels, The Name of the Rose is my favourite. I really really loved it, both the two times I've read it.

On the other hand, I completely agree with all your issues. The only difference is that I got past all those and truly appreciated everything else that's good about it. I'm well aware that Eco does come off as bragging his intelligence, but I'm one of those who wasn't bothered by it. I admit to not having understood every little thing but I really was blown away by this. But, yeah, I'll still read The Blind Assassin. I'm sure we'll agree on some books. :D

Kim said...

Sorry you didn't get into The Name of the Rose fully, even after trudging over all those hills and attending all those prayers. The film is excellent and I do think your mum is on the right track when she says that the film is better than the book, I think it is at least as good and that is unusual - Sean Connery has a lot to do with that, though, he does a great job in this movie. Seeing the film gave me a greater appreciation of the book, actually, I will be interested to know what you make of it when you get around to watching it.