The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is not a book for the faint-hearted reader. If this would be a Cricket Test Match, it would be a long-drawn-out fifth-day decider, with slowly-evolving turning points and glacially slow changes which will overturn the destiny of the plot. Don’t try this novel unless you are ready to invest the time, and if you are unwilling to put in a bit of effort. This is real gold, but it shall have to be mined. This is a detective story for the purist.
Umberto Eco was an Italian literary critic, intellectual and writer. His novels are tomes of erudition, complex in theme and language, and deep with historical and biblical references. That they are wonderfully complicated and innovative detective novels is by the by. But detective novels they are, and the novel I would talk about today, The Name of the Rose is one of the absolute best detective novels ever written.
In 1327, Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, accompanied by his young apprentice Adso of Melk, travels to a Benedictine monastery in Italy to take part in a theological debate. William of Baskerville is a learned man, widely revered but also criticized for his unorthodox ways – along with his biblical knowledge, he is also a logician and is famous for his deductive powers.
Then the deaths start to visit the abbey. There is an apparent suicide, of a young monk who was also a famous manuscript illuminator. If you look closely enough though, the death could not have been a suicide at all. The Abbot of the monastery asks for the help of William of Baskerville to apprehend the murderer. William, with Adso in tow, patiently starts to gather the clues to the mystery, but there is one more murder that soon follows. There are mysterious occurrences surrounding the deaths, and the Abbot fears demonic activities.
William tries to convince the Abbot that these are the work of man, and not the devil, but having not gathered enough proof by then, is not able to convince him. The Abbot calls for the Inquisition in the form of Bernardo Gui, a formidable presence. What follow are more murders, and more convictions, and forced confessions, and multiple delicious twists of plot.
The plot, though, is only part of the experience. Standard mystery novels are primarily about the destination – the unmasking of criminal and the detection of the crime. The Name of the Rose is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. When Eco takes a detour into the explanation of some little-known crevice of knowledge in the midst of a particularly interesting plot point, it demands you to keep your focus and patience. When he enraptures you with his mazy, complicated language, you know that the novel demands your time and attention.
When you read it, give this novel the love it deserves. It will love you back.
(The writer is a business development executive in Hyderabad)
Shom Biswas @spinstripe