WRITING STYLE: 4.5/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4.5/5
Set at the brink of the Early Modern Era, a time which remains a landmark in the power struggle between the Pope and the Roman Emperor, Umberto Eco’s inaugural novel, The Name of the Rose, is as much a murder mystery as it is historical fiction.
The 14th century was one of the worst periods for Catholicism. Not only was the church embattled with various religious orders, the internal divisiveness led to a string of Popes and Antipopes being elected from Avignon and Rome. It is in this background that the controversial story of Adso of Melk is presented.
In 1327, William of Baskerville is sent to attend a conclave where leaders of the Franciscan Order will meet representatives of the papacy to amicably resolve disputes. The Franciscans believe Christ lived in poverty and hence, espouse poverty as a virtue. Acknowledging their stance would mean that the church would have to mend its ways and slowly part with its eye-popping wealth amassed over decades. Added to that, Louis the Bavarian, elected Roman Emperor, is getting jittery over the strength of the Church and hence his objectives are aligned with the Franciscans.
The abbot of the monastery, where the delegations are to meet, is in a quandary of his own. A week prior to their arrival, one of their scholars commits suicide, or so it seems. Over the days, more scholars die, and that too with an uncanny resemblance to the Seven Trumpets of the Apocalypse. The abbot is at his wit’s end and needs the matter resolved before the representatives of the church arrive, lest they take it as a sign of aggression. Hence, at his behest, Brother William and his young Benedictine understudy, Adso of Melk, set out in all their wisdom to apprehend the marauders of this peaceful monastery.
An abbey with secret passages, a forbidden library which is rumoured to house manuscripts by heretics, a cook who sneaks in village girls to satisfy his carnal appetite, and a barbarous inquisitor who hounds out a confession from the abbey’s cellarer of having been a Dolcinian.
All this in the background of a political pogrom at the highest level, Eco’s magnum opus is an expansive display of literary skill, the work foraying into so many different aspects that cannot possibly be classified into one single genre. Step aside Archer, move away Grisham, Umberto Eco has it all covered.
The Name of the Rose is an extremely detailed novel depicting the times of the Late Middle Ages, without going too far astray of the main plot of the murder mystery. For anyone with even half an interest in theology, or the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Roman Empire during those times, this book is an incisive elicitation of all that was unwell in that period – a must read.