The Name of the Rose (Italian: IL nome della Rosa) is the debut novel by author Umberto Eco in 1980. It’s a murder mystery ‘who-done-it’ set in an Italian monastery in 1327.
The year is 1327; Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his apprentice Adso arrive at a Benedictine monastery in Italy to attend a religious debate. The abbey is an embassy between Pope John XXII, and the Friars Minor, who are suspected of heresy.
The monastery has recently suffered a death, Adelmo of Otranto, an illustrator at the abbey. He was known for his great drawings of mythical beasts, especially those concerning religious symbology.
William, along with Adso, is tasked by the Abbey’s abbot Abo with investigating the death and finding any possible causes. Think of them as the Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson of the monk-detective-business.
This leads both of our antagonists down a dark well of torment, treachery and religious righteousness that could cost them more than their honour.
The book opens with a transcript describing the book, or how it’s in fact not a book. It’s a translated manuscript given to our author, Umberto Eco, by Abbé Vallet. Starting each chapter is a brief description of what’s to come, written in third-person.
Furthermore, it’s split into seven chapters that span the course of one week at the Abbey. These days are then divided up further to represent different times of the day.
Matins – (which Adso sometimes refers to by the older expression “Vigiliae”) between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning.
Lauds – (which in the most ancient tradition were called “Matutini” or “Matins”) between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning, in order to end at dawn.
Prime – Around 7:30, shortly before daybreak. Terce around 9:00.
Sext – Noon (in a monastery where the monks did not work in the fields, it was also the hour of the midday meal in winter).
Nones – Between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon.
Vespers – Around 4:30, at sunset (the Rule prescribes eating supper before dark).
Compline – Around 6:00 (before 7:00, the monks go to bed).
It’s in this time which William and Adso must work to find the true circumstances around Adelmo’s death; found at the bottom of the tallest tower. Did he fall? Was he pushed? Suicide?
As the story progresses more and more characters are introduced and each has their own motives for greed, although they don’t all act upon them. As with any good murder mystery, the book is littered with strong personalities, most of which capable of committing heinous acts.
We’re tasked with interpretation these motives and then trying to decide who plays which role in this murderous game. And when I say murderous, I mean it. Monks begin to be picked off left, right and centre, in an increasingly gruesome manner.
There’s also the constantly growing maze of misfortune, and the opportunity, taking place in the background scene. This adds additional subplots which at times are muddled and hard to keep up with, however, it all pays off in the end.Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means. Click To Tweet
The Name of the Rose is both complex and drawn out. Intricate details teamed with vast landscapes. Centuries of Roman history coupled with suspicious circumstances.
Nevertheless, there are times when the book does dwindle and lose focus. It almost feels as if Umberto got lost in the moment and wanted to spend his time writing about the beautiful architecture instead of getting back to the main plot.
Despite these shortcomings, The Name of the Rose is an excellent read for both murder mystery buffs and historical readers akin. Filled with historical events, symbology and relics the book reads much like a who’s who of 14th Century Italy.
When asked to describe this book… Obsessive is the word that comes to mind.