Books

18 August 2015

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Italy, 1980



Photo of Umberto Eco from www.italymagazine.com
In the blurb to the first Italian edition of the novel, Umberto Eco, a semiotician, wrote:
‘… this novel may perhaps be read in three ways. The first category of readers will be taken by the plot () and will accept even the long bookish discussions and the philosophical dialogues, because it will sense that the signs, the traces and the revelatory symptoms are nesting in those inattentive pages. The second category will be impassioned by the debate of ideas, and will attempt to establish connections (which the author refuses to authorize) with the present. The third will realize that this text is a textile of other texts, a whodunnit of quotations, a book built on books. 1

At some point in the novel, the main character, William, makes the observation that all books speak only of other books, and that no story is new because it has already been told; consequently, it makes sense that Eco regards The Name of the Rose as ‘a book built on books’, and it also makes sense that the library, with all its riddles and false promises, is at the heart of the mystery.

Although The Name of the Rose is a detective story set in an isolated monastery in the fourteenth century, it is not a light read, and the detective element - why are all these people dying, and who is killing them? - is merely the scaffolding on which Eco hangs many theological and philosophical questions and riddles.  I was fascinated by the title and eventually discovered that Eco had chosen the title because: the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left.’ 2

The Name of the Rose puts forward ideas, possibilities and clues, but, like the labyrinth of the library itself, nothing is perfectly clear, much is hidden, and, at the end of the book, William (the detective in the story) says: ‘… The order that our mind imagines is like a net, or a ladder, built to attain something. But afterward you must throw the ladder away, because you discover that, even if it was useful, it was meaningless… ’ 3 

 Even Adso, the novice monk travelling with William and the narrator of the story, looks at what he has written and wonders whether there is a hidden meaning (or several) somewhere among the pages, or whether perhaps there is no meaning at all.

The photo (taken from the film based on the book) is from www.theguardian.com
Apart from the suspense of the actual detective story, I feel that the reader is given a multitude of ideas that he/she can then take in whatever direction he/she wishes. As with the library, many of these directions will hit a wall without any opening, while others will follow complicated trails not previously considered. It is definitely a book than can, and probably should, be read more than once.

1 The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, Alfred A. Knopf, UK, 2006, Introduction, p.xiv
2 “Postscript to the Name of the Rose, The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, Harcourt, Inc., 1984 p.506
3 The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, Alfred A. Knopf, UK, 2006, p.550