Currently Reading: The Name of the Rose

The Name of the RoseI never saw an abbey more beautiful or better oriented, even though subsequently I saw St. Gall, and Cluny, and Fontenay, and others still, perhaps larger but less well proportioned. Unlike the others, this one was remarkable for the exceptional size of the Aedificium. I did not possess the experience of a master builder, but I immediately realized it was much older than the buildings surrounding it. Perhaps it had originated for some other purposes, and the abbey's compound had been laid out around it at a later time, but in such a way that the orientation of the huge building should conform with that of the church, and the church's with its. For architecture, among all the arts, is the one that most boldly tries to reproduce in its rhythm the order of the universe, which the ancients called "kosmos," that is to say ornate, since it is like a great animal on whom there shine the perfection and the proportion of all its members. And praised be our Creator, who has decreed all things, in their number, weight, and measure.

Author: Umberto Eco

Mini-synopsis: In the fourteenth century, Benedictine novice Adso of Melk accompanies an intellectual Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville, to a meeting of church officials at a wealthy and troubled abbey with an immense, renowned library. Upon arrival, William is requested to look into the recent, mysterious death of a gifted young manuscript illuminator. William consents, but soon finds himself investigating another death, and then another, all of which seem to center around a forbidden book. The library is off limits for investigation, the likelihood of foul play is high, and the suspects are many—and William must find answers before the Inquisition arrives to threaten him and the monastery alike.

Notes: The above quote is a beautiful thing, very near the front of the book, and it helps kick off a heady and emotional philosophical journey that made for long, but not necessarily dull, reading. The thought processes were fascinating, if often depressing, and arose naturally out of a tragic romance and a garish, Gothic, openly Holmesian detective murder mystery.

Eco, an ex-Catholic and skeptic, set his characters—compassionate ex-Inquisitor William and his wide-eyed student, Adso—to sniff out a murderer while working through concepts such as the presence of order in the universe, the righteousness of laughter and of wealth and poverty, the meaning of language and symbol, the relationship between beauty and sin, and the madness of a single truth unchecked. He is generally free of the ham-fisted ignorance that the average anti-Catholic storyteller possesses; it was impressive how far I could follow him before parting company with his ideas. I got nearly as caught up in the philosophical plot as in the mystery and was likewise enthralled by the characters, including the magnificently creepy fourteenth-century library.

I loved the journey, but I couldn't love the ending. I have never liked deconstruction, let alone the despair that usually results—but Adso's final moments with the library left me with patchy, haunting visions of beauty nonetheless.


  1. There's a reason he's called the patron saint of post-modernism.

    Well, I don't know if he's actually called that, I was just making it up. Totally agree with you on deconstruction. At least how it's normally practiced.

  2. Yay, Name of the Rose!

    I like deconstructionist fiction in theory. I just tend to get impatient with individual instances of it -- for not being interesting enough on the story level or for mugging at the camera too much, I guess? It's possible that the reason I liked The Name of the Rose so much and couldn't get into some of Eco's other books is that the story and setting here are interesting without it. The Name of the Rose has loads of jokes and anachronistic pop-culture references, but they're all given believable medieval disguises and they don't know they're jokes. That's what makes the difference for me. And I think I expect better, more confident writing for deconstruction-y fiction than for any other kind.

    1. It WAS extremely well-written, without all the self-conscious attempts at being smart. Which is probably why I enjoyed reading it so much. I'm not even a murder mystery fan, but sometimes I was just like, "This book is AWESOME."

  3. Oh, this one has been in my peripheral for quite a while! (Now if only I'd stop reading about books I want to read and actually read them.) But knowing that it's a deconstructionist novel might have cost it another year or two. I read one of those once and found it intensely frustrating. :P


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