Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A monk's life. And death.

Among the best suspense novels I've read thus far, The Name of the Rose isn't just an ordinary detective story.

Set in the 14th century, in a rich Franciscan abbey in Italy, the novel is told from a viewpoint of an old Benedictine monk, Adso, whose memories of the past events form the backbone of this literary masterpiece.

For seven days, heinous crimes are committed in the monastery. But just as notorious as the crimes are the underlying motives for them—greed for knowledge and power, pride, and lust.

Umberto Eco, the writer, weaves a powerful picture of these events. Instead of chapters, the book is divided into Days and Times: matins (2:30 – 3 am), lauds (5 – 6 am), prime (7:30), terce (9 am), sext (noon), nones (2 – 3 pm), vespers (4:30 pm, at sunset), and compline (6 pm, before the monks go to bed).

The book is a heavy read—it combines philosophy, logic, history, and language. Interspersed in Adso's narration is the conflict between the Emperor in Rome and the Pope in Avignon, sparked by the Franciscan debate against material wealth.

To fully grasp the story, one must have some knowledge of history (which I had very little of, so much so that I had to do some research of my own). I was often lost in many of the Latin phrases incorporated in the text, especially in the dialogue.

But overall, it was a fulfilling—more than a fun—experience.

I admit it—I read The Name of the Rose because I wanted to see if Umberto Eco is the writer people say he is.

They weren't exaggerating when they called him brilliant.

PS. There's a film adaptation of this book, starring Sean Connery and E. Murry Abraham, but I haven't seen it yet. Do lend me a copy if you have one.

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