Rereadings: The Name of the Rose
This is part of our Rereadings series, which alternates Friday-duty with Fairy Tale Friday. For more background on the series, check out this post.
To my surprise, it has been seven years since I first read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Seven years since I first fell absolutely in love with the book and Eco himself. Seven years of insisting various people read it. And seven years of not reading it myself. I remained steadfast in my love of The Name of the Rose for most of those seven years, until this past October when my lovely co-blogger read it. And hated it. Since we often agree about these sort of things, this gave me serious pause. I was 17 when I first read the book. In the intervening seven years, I had undeniably changed in ways large and small as a person and as a reader. At this point I rather fretfully glanced at The Name of the Rose. Had it changed, too?
Rereading is always a little perilous and filled with that very worrying question. What if that which I loved is now complete garbage to me? Wouldn’t I just have been happier with the fond memory rather than knowing the book isn’t very good? On the other side, what about all the books I hated the first time around? Do they deserve a second chance because of how I’ve changed or should I trust my initial gut and perhaps miss out on something great? These very questions caused me to enter this particular rereading with some trepidation and, I’m sorry to say, I was in part sadly correct (and so was KT).
The Name of the Rose, while still good, is no longer a book I would force into the hands of everyone around me. In fact, reading it again and liking it well enough, I was hard-pressed to remember why I had felt such a passion for it in the first place. It is definitely a fine book, probably unparalleled in its sheer intelligence and use of language, but it certainly did not speak to me the way it did to 17-year-old-me. (In related news, no, you can’t be 17 again, even if you want to recapture a lost book-love.) I became bogged down in the oftentimes endless theological debates (although I enjoyed some of them still) and I started skimming the lengthy descriptions of religious rapture in front of beautifully decorated church doors. It wasn’t the same. Or I wasn’t the same. Or both. Either way, the rereading suffered for it.
What was different about this rereading, aside from my age, is that I read Eco’s Postscript this time around. I skipped it in high school, but I rather morosely entered into it this time around. I had lost a favorite and for some reason I hoped the Postscript would provide some kind of comfort. And Eco did not fail me. I almost liked the Postscript better than the novel (although, of course, you cannot have one without the other). It made me appreciate Eco’s braininess and his evident egotism, which made me appreciate his abilities more but like him personally rather less. The Postscript was an excellent little explanation of why he wrote what he did and what his writing process was like. In fact, it made me understand where the book came from and why it evolved into its current form much better, which, in turn, made me appreciate it a little bit more. Those endless theological debates had a place and Eco had inserted them for good reason.
Including the Postscript in this rereading, it became a “win some, lose some” situation. I won a deeper appreciation of The Name of the Rose, but I definitely lost my love of it. So I may no longer love the book, but I think I now have a far better understanding of what makes it a great modern work of fiction. Happily, I can always check out 17-year-old-me’s utterly simplistic and adoring reaction to the book and think to myself, “Those were the days.”