Book Reviews

In Review: The Name of the Rose

The Name of the RoseThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I am unsure how to rate or review this book. At some points I thought it was brilliant. At other points I found it very trying. In the end I figure everything evened out to make this a 3.5 star book.

I have written my review with heading in the style of the book. I don’t know if it helps readability but it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

Part 1: In which I fall in love with the premise of the story

First of all, I absolutely love the the premise of the story: A murder mystery set in a 14th century monastery. I have not read many works of fiction set in that time period and I’m interested in just about anything that examines the history of God or the catholic church. So the premise really got me excited and I dove into this book with about as much energy as is possible.

Part 2: In which I enjoy the mystery itself

I don’t have many complaints about the murder mystery itself. The pacing was good for me but was slower than some other stories. If you get bored easily, I doubt you’ll make it. New wrinkles are added to the mystery throughout and Brother William puts on his best Sherlock Holmes impression to make sense of everything.

Part 3: Where I grow tired of the writing style

The basic setup of the story is something like this:
information about the mystery,
great information about the mystery that gives you the feeling something big is coming,
really long digression.

It was very clear that Umberto Eco knew a lot about the time and subject of the book. He frequently made (long) digressions to talk about things that would have been hot button issues at that time. For example, I now know more than I ever wanted to know about heretical religious groups in the 14th century. I saw other reviews who said it felt like Eco was shoving his knowledge down. I understand that feeling. It can feel pedantic at times.

However, the only thing that really annoyed me about the digressions is the way they broke up the story. In the beginning, you don’t know much about the murderer so it isn’t a huge deal to make a temporary digression. But later in the story you know more about the mystery and sometimes get the feeling that something big is about to happen…only for Eco to take you into a 20 page digression that somehow only has two paragraphs. That got really tiring by the end. I admit to speed reading (cough cough skipping) some of the later digressions in favor of reading the “good parts”.

Also, there are some monster paragraphs. Many of them took up an entire page (in my edition) and I remember at least one paragraph that spanned 2.5 pages. I’ve seen longer paragraphs but why does anyone need a paragraph that long? C’mon Umberto!

Part 4: The end

I was tired by the end. Things had dragged on and I just wanted to be finished with the book. Brother William doesn’t solve the crime until the very end and I was really afraid of an anticlimactic ending. (If the ending had sucked, I promised myself I would show no mercy and either burn the book while cursing Umberto Eco or smash it to pieces a la Office Space.)

Thankfully, I really like the ending. All the clues came together and the explanation for the crime was great. At the very least, the ending made sense in the context of the greater story; it felt realistic. I don’t want to spoil anything but an event takes place after the crime is solved and it felt like sweet justice. To paraphrase Kendrick Lamar, it’s like Eco knew just, knew just, knew just what I wanted: poetic justice. The ending just about made it worth reading 600 pages.

Part 5: In which I, a writer of book reviews, make the uncharacteristic decision to write a partial film review because I feel that the director’s interpretation of this story helped me to better understand my feelings for the novel

The Name of the Rose seems like a perfect movie concept to me and I watched the movie (because who doesn’t love Sean Connery?) as soon as I finished the book. It was not nearly as good as the book and it helped me appreciate the book more. The digressions were annoying in the book but they helped to build the overall atmosphere. They even had a few funny moments. The unraveling of the mystery was kind of slow but we learned a lot about the characters, who all had great depth. The movie skipped all that. I think the director was trying to distill the story to just “the good parts” and I can’t blame him. I would have done the same thing. But the viewer really misses out.

Stray notes on the movie:

  • Listening to actors talk in the style of 14th century monks gets kind of annoying.
  • Adso is really annoying in the movie. He is afraid of everything and doesn’t help solve the crime at all. He is a sidekick in the book- a John Watson to Brother William’s Sherlock Holmes.
  • Sean Connery PERFECTLY plays the role of the arrogant, uncompromising Brother William. Major props to whomever decided to cast him.


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