The Name of the Rose – chunk the third…

Well, that’s that! I finished the NotR yesterday, just in time for this post to make my original aim to read and write about it through January. Do check out my posts on the first and middle thirds of the book here and here.

The final part, days five to seven, begins with Eco giving us more theology again – the envoys debate the poverty of Jesus and just like the Brexit debate, neither side will concede an inch towards the others. So an interruption which takes William outside to talk to the herbalist Severinus was very welcome. He tells of a book which Berengar must have hidden before he was found dead, it must be in the infirmary as he went there before the bathhouse where he died. Unfortunately he is overheard, and Severinus becomes the fourth victim, having his head smashed in and laboratory wrecked, the book is gone. William is unable to investigate further though for Bernard Gui is ready to begin his inquisition of the two monks arrested the day before. Bernard, like a prosecuting barrister, proceeds to interrogate the two men, tying them up in knots, tripping them into confessing their heresy, threatening torture, which fortunately is not needed, and one drags the other down under Bernard’s powerful leading questioning, which also puts the end to the talks.

If Bernard had been sent by the Pope to prevent a reconciliation between the two groups, he had succeeded.

From this point the mystery thriller takes over with another body first, then William and Adso will enter the library one last time for the showdown. I won’t tell you what happens, except to say that Adso ties up the lose ends of what happened to everyone.

I can honestly say that I enjoyed my re-reading of the NotR – but I do have reservations about the book. As I said already, Eco the medieval scholar was obviously entranced by the philosophy behind some of the heretical sects and the politics of the Avignon Popes; the rivalries between the Dominicans and Franciscans, the Pope and the Emperor. This means the mystery often has to play second fiddle to the theology, and in truth, I felt that Eco should have used Occam’s razor to cut some of it out, which would have made the mystery much tauter, and left the reader expecting a medieval mystery, which is how the book was marketed, as just that.

But I don’t think it would work as a straight-forward mystery in the way say, Edith Pargeter’s (as Ellis Peters) Cadfael books do. Where the conflict in the Cadfael novels often arises from the areas where the spiritual meets the secular world, there is very little that is secular in the NotR: it is wholly about the holy stuff! (Couldn’t resist that, sorry.) It needs the theology, but perhaps not all of it.

Eco does excel in the creation of his characters though. William, despite his Sherlockian skills, is no sociopath; Adso couldn’t wish for a better mentor. Of the others, the abbot, Abo stands out as a weak man, won over by avarice for the abbey’s riches, but full of pride for the library. Seeing Bernard in full flight, it is easy to see why William gave up being an inquisitor. The other monks all have their weaknesses and peccadilloes, many are hypocrites, few are those with nothing to hide.

The sub-chapters within each of the days of the book, revolve around the liturgical hours followed by the monks, from Matins at around 3am to Compline at 6pm, the monks are called to prayer eight times a day, although those with jobs are excused from observing all of the prayers. We get a real feel for the life of the abbey, and later we get to see the crypt which is full of jewelled crosses and relics and see a different side of the abbey to the working one, and very much a Domincan one – not Franciscan!

The text is full of quotations and phrases, mainly in Latin, but also a smattering of Italian, German, French and Greek. They’re rarely translated, but that didn’t worry me, I got the odd word.

The Name of the Rose was a challenging yet rewarding read. As a debut novel, it took the world by storm back in 1980 when first published in Italian, and winning the Strega Prize in 1981. When Weaver’s English translation was published in 1983, it found a huge new audience. Re-reading it, I loved the mystery afresh, and appreciated the theology even if it was complex and dense; I certainly got more of the intertextuality this time too. Encouraged by this, I’ll be re-reading more Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum next.

I shall leave the last word with Eco himself, whose opinion voiced in an interview some years ago, echoes my reading.

I think a book should be judged 10 years later, after reading and re-reading it. I was always defined as too erudite and philosophical, too difficult. Then I wrote a novel that is not erudite at all, that is written in plain language, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, and among my novels it is the one that has sold the least. So probably I am writing for masochists. It’s only publishers and some journalists who believe that people want simple things. People are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged. –interview with the Guardian in 2011

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13 thoughts on “The Name of the Rose – chunk the third…

  1. Laura says:

    I remember reading this in a monastery in Peru… very atmospheric! I found it a bit overly-convoluted and ostentatiously clever, IIRC, but it is engrossing all the same.

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Really interesting posts, Annabel. I too think he needed to trim the theological aspects, but I think you’re very right that it’s a completely different type of book than the Cadfael’s are. Trouble is, I don’t think it was really that accurately described at the time – the publicity made it just sound like a mediaeval mystery romp. One day I’ll give it another go! 😀

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      It is certainly re-readable. I got more the second time around, whereas I skimmed most of the theological bits before.The publicists did it no favours at the time, but that didn’t stop it selling shedloads! How many of those were read, we’ll never know.

  3. Calmgrove says:

    I’ve a copy ready for reread sometime, especially since when I read this in the 80s most of the theology went over my head (though the speculation about whether God had a sense of humour struck a chord). Like you (and Eco himself) I think a second bite of the cherry will allow me to appreciate it more.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Although I have too many new books to re-read many, I do find that I often get so much more the second time around, particularly if there are a couple of decades between readings. With age comes experience and understanding which give a different take on modern classics such as this. I’m looking forward to re-reading Foucault’s Pendulum now, as that had a profound influence on my reading when it first came out, sending me off on an alchemical/Rosicrucian journey.

      • Calmgrove says:

        I think Foucault’s Pendulum got me reading Frances Yates’ Rosicrucian and Art of Memory books, but I was already familiar with all the bogus stuff, having had a meal around that time with Richard Baigent, co-author of the preposterous Holy Blood, Holy Grail pseudo history and listened to his conspiracy theories. I think I’m right in saying that Eco’s novel was partly a response to the HBHG nonsense. But my memory of the chronology around all this is a bit hazy…

          • Calmgrove says:

            Ooh, I never finished that, to my shame. I think I’d persevere now. I’ve only read a couple of A S Byatt’s minor novels, but that Lindsay Clarke I fancy reminds me of her writing.

  4. cath says:

    What an excellent set of posts.

    Although I failed in my intention to read along with you, in part because I seem to have discarded my original copy of the novel, and haven’t had time to track down a replacement, you’ve whetted my appetite. Who knows, I may even find Foucault’s Pendulum in time to join in.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Thanks Cath. I’m not intending to go straight into Foucault’s Pendulum – maybe in April/May.

  5. Helen says:

    I’m catching up with your Name of the Rose posts at last! I did intend to read it along with you, but was too far behind and have only just finished it. This is the second time I’ve read the book and I did enjoy it more this time, but still struggled a bit with the amount of theology – I agree that some of it could have been cut out. It’s a fascinating book, though, so thank you for inspiring me to re-read it! Here’s my review:

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