By any other name

I first read The Name Of The Rose, not when it was at its most hyped, but not that long after, and can remember that I felt very disappointed. I didn't think it was particularly clever, I thought the sequence of events was fairly obvious, and it left me feeling pretty flat. Not having read it for some years, having (generally) enjoyed the film, and having read Umberto Eco's wonderful The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana, I felt ready to re-read and perhaps be more appreciative of Eco's mystery. So was I? Well no, not really.

To be fair there is a lot going for it - it's a wonderful evocation of life in medieval times; there's the sweeping social change, the sense of unrest and uneasiness as there are marked changes in religion, and of one's place within society; and Eco's love of learning just for the love of it is clear. But it's also occasionally extraordinarily clumsy with dense prose and reams of Latin. Much of this Latin is more for effect than for any good narrative reason - the author acknowledges this himself, translating freely where the text is vital, but not bothering where the archaic language is more for set dressing than for any useful purpose. And the final denouement of the book is just plain (at least to my mind) silly, a monk obsessed with Aristotle, and the dangers of comedy. It's probably no accident that The name of the rose was published not that long after the furore over Monty Python's Life of Brian in which religious and comedic interests came to a head.

It's an interesting insight into the medieval mind, but not, I think, one of the great murder mysteries. Ultimately it's more style than substance.


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