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The Name of the Rose [Il nome della rosa] () Top 100 Books of the Millenium (83)

With large chunks of text in Latin and numerous discussions of 14th century religious controversies and political squabbles, Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose appears, at first glance, to be one of the more unlikely bestsellers of all time.  But if you want to understand the real key to its success, you need look no further than the structure of the story and the name of the protagonist, William of Baskerville.  Though Eco claims that while he was writing the book he actually referred to William as William of Ockham, it seems implausible that he did not realize all along that he was simply transplanting Sherlock Holmes to a medieval monastery.  After all, he even gave William an overly innocent sidekick and awestruck narrator, in the form of Adso of Melk, an old man now who relates the series of events he witnessed back in 1327.

The story then proceeds like the best of the Sherlock Holmes imitations (sort of a medieval Seven Percent Solution) and adds in elements of the gothic thriller.  Combine these sure fire formulas with a sufficiently intellectual patina to make us feel like we're reading real "literature" and you've got an odds on recipe for a hit.  There are quite probably a number of other levels on which the book can be read and Mr. Eco is assuredly trying to accomplish other things, but the fact remains, it works quite well as a garden variety mystery, and that's how almost all of its readers have likely understood it.

N. B.  I recently found  a slender volume by Mr. Eco entitled Postscript to the Name of the Rose (1983) and picked it up (for $1) on the assumption that within its pages he might offer some explanation as to his purposes in the book.  However, the theories he does expound are so absurd or obtuse--hard to tell which--that I now assume that it is merely a hoax.   His failure to even acknowledge his debt to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle renders everything else he has to say more than somewhat suspect.

Perhaps the point of the novel really is as simple as he says early on in this postscript :

    I felt like poisoning a monk.

Mindful of at least the possibility that he's being serious in this admission and of the fact that the novel concerns a series of characters who are killed by their own literary curiosity perhaps it is best that we delve no further.


Grade: (B+)


Umberto Eco Links:

    -REVIEW: of Baudolino by Umberto Eco (Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Umberto Eco: Porta Ludovica - Author Homepage (The Modern Word)
    -Home Page : Umbert Eco (Dipartimento di Discipline della Comunicazione)
    -ESSAY : The roots of conflict : Is western culture better than any other? Umberto Eco argues that what is important is not superiority but pluralism and toleration (October 13, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY : Umberto Eco's take on the religious war b/w microcomputers (Espresso, September 30, 1994)
    -Author Page : Umberto Eco (The Guardian)
    -Umbert Eco (Bohemian Ink)
    -Umberto Eco's Multiple Name
    -ONLINE STUDY GUIDE : Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose: Index to Study Pages (Professor Anderson, ENG 510)
    -Semiotics : semiotics links assembled by Martin Ryder
    -REVIEW : of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW : of Foucault's Pendulum (Anthony Burgess, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition by Umberto Eco (Thomas Wright, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of Five Moral Pieces by Umberto Eco (Thomas Wright, Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of Kant and the Platypus by Umberto Eco (Simon Blackburn, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of FIVE MORAL PIECES by Umberto Eco (January Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of  Five Moral Pieces by Umberto Eco (Alastair McEwan, Daily Telegraph)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Umberto Eco (
    -INFO : The Name of the Rose (1986) (
    -REVIEW : of The Name of the Rose (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW : of Name of the Rose (Paul Attanasio, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Name of the Rose (Rita Kempley, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of Name of the Rose (John Hartl,
    -REVIEW : of Name of the Rose (Doug Pratt DVDLaser Disc Review)