Sub Rosa: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

October 26, 2009 at 12:00 am 4 comments

At least the covers pretty :(

It is cold in the scriptorium, my thumb aches. I leave this manuscript, I do not know for whom; I no longer know what it is  about: stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.

Sometimes you will meet someone, and without really understanding why, you’ll dislike them. Something about their voice, or the way they carry themselves, or some indefinable quality will rub you precisely the wrong way, and you’ll develop this ungrounded dislike for them that’s surprisingly hard to overcome.

The same is true for me and books. I don’t know why or how it happens, but every once in a while I will start a book that does not sit well with me. The Name of the Rose, unfortunately, is one of those novels that I’ve started and stopped twice before, unable to really connect with it like I should have.

But the third time I started it, I made myself promise that 1) I would finish the book, and 2) I would finish it within a week. It had been sitting on my shelf unread for far too long, and I just had to attack it and get it over with.

Unfortunately, while this book had moments that I enjoyed, something about it just didn’t click with me. I understand that the whole thing is a metaphor for critical interpretation of literature; I understand that it’s a comment on knowledge; I get that Eco is an historian and thus expects his readers to be fascinated by the distinctions between various fourteenth-century monastic orders. I still just couldn’t get interested in this novel.

That’s not to say that it isn’t brilliant. I’m sure it is — the sheer density of the prose is assurance enough of that. The denial of the universal validity of Occam’s Razor is not generally a theme most authors would even attempt to tackle, especially in mysteries, which tend to rely on the principle that the simple explanation is always the correct one. The novel contains discussions of the importance of laughter, concerns over the role of materialism in monastic orders, and the politics involved in the Church.

But for me, The Name of the Rose is best described by this quote from the author himself: “The rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left.” The novel encompasses so much that it was hard for me to grasp any one aspect long enough to understand its meaning. It’s entirely possible that I’ve been reading young adult fiction too long and that any normal person should be able to read, enjoy, and understand this book.

That being said, I urge you to borrow before buying this book — especially if you’re unsure of how much you would enjoy reading long discussions on the meanings and importance of laughter, knowledge, and the Apocalypse.


Entry filed under: Historical Fiction. Tags: , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  October 26, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Oh sadness. This is one of my favorite books, so I’m sorry to hear you didn’t click. At least you muscled through and didn’t let it become one of those frustratingly unfinished books.

    • 2. KT  |  October 26, 2009 at 9:25 am

      Sorry, buddy! I know you love it, and I was so surprised that I didn’t for that reason :( Maybe I rushed it? Maybe it’s NOT possible to do justice to a book like this in seven days!

      That said, there are some parts that are wonderfully, beautifully written. The scene where Eco describes the sound of the monks singing gave me chills, in fact.

      • 3. Corey  |  October 26, 2009 at 10:17 am

        It is impossible for everyone to like all the same books, so no real worries on this front. I’m just sorry I built it up so much and then it was a non-clicking book. What tragedy!

        Glad to hear you could at least appreciate some bits! What I do remember about it was its beautiful prose, so I’m glad to hear that some parts worked for you in that way. : )

  • 4. Rereadings: The Name of the Rose « Literary Transgressions  |  February 5, 2010 at 12:08 am

    […] 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 […]


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