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On the surface, Umberto Eco's classic, The Name of the Rose, is a whodunit mystery set in a monastery in 14th century Italy. A perspicacious monk named William of Baskerville (an obvious nod) and his young assistant, Adso, who narrates the story as a much older man, arrive at the monastery, the scene of mysterious murders. Given that delegations from the Pope and Emperor, whose theologies have schismed, are about to arrive for a conference, and the air is already tense, William must get the root of the foul deeds. And, so, he puts to use his well-honed powers of observation and deduction in pursuit of ultimate causes. For, soon, an inquisitor will be arriving and things will get uncomfortable.
However, it's the turbulent 14th century, and ultimate causes may not be so clear, given the differing schools of thought on the nature of good and evil, sin and salvation, power and poverty, or reason versus superstition that embroil Christendom. At its core, TNTR is a philosophical and somewhat challenging book. Eco isn't afraid to pause the action and throw ideas at the reader, or look backwards in time and trace the evolution of different heretical Christian orders. Though these elements are a little confusing at first, if the reader is patient, it becomes clear that many of the themes are timeless and familiar.
This book is really a meditation on symbols and their meaning, the way ideas in our minds seek but never quite grasp the underlying reality, thus creating new ones. When does heresy stray from orthodoxy and become heresy, and what does each really mean? When does commitment to poverty become an act of violent revolution? What defines the line between sexuality that is good and sexuality that is a sin? How long do names, memories, and ideas hold onto an essence of something, when that thing is gone? When does reason lead us to answers, and when do our efforts to see through illusion create their own illusions? Is God simply the ultimate symbol, and what fearsome truth do we uncover in trying to peer beyond the veil?
To me, these rich questions (which will probably bore the heck out of readers who have no interest in philosophy or medieval theology) made for a moving read. Gradually, the riddles of the story build: a library filled with secrets, a close-mouthed gatekeeper, a labyrinth (see wikipedia for a map), a mysterious book, a prophetic figure, and trysts and twists in the dark of night. The murders, as they take place, point to the signs of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations. And, indeed, the story does build to a kind of apocalypse, filled with symbolism that I found quite brilliant, even as it calls into question all symbols. I won't hint at what Eco places behind the final seals, but to me, the best endings are the ones that both meet your expectations and surprise you, and I think he pulled that off.
If you're looking for an accessible thriller similar to the Da Vinci Code, don't bother. This novel is for people who want to fully engage their brains, and don't mind a bit of rereading to make sense of the pieces. Fans of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which has a lot of parallels, or of David Mitchell, might want to check this book out. It’s a little more “literary” than the works of both those authors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been an influence on them.
To audible listeners, I should let you know that the various problems with the download and recording described by others seem to have been cleaned up. There was some faint background noise in part 3, but nothing that bothered me.
50 of 52 people found this review helpful
For those reviews complaining that the third part of the audio book is not available, or about the production values - those are solved. At least I didn't have those problems. Upon purchase I had all 3 parts available for download. Having listened to the book twice now (the whole entire thing), I have not noticed any production problems with background noise or "voices like a party down the hall" or a "studio door open". I don't know if those were draft edits or a pre-release product or what, but the technical problems are solved.
I loved that all the characters had a separate voice, as narrated by the actor. That made following the action much easier for me. I used this version instead of the paperback book for a college class. I found that the book and the audiobook read word for word, and I could listen to the audio book while commuting.
46 of 49 people found this review helpful