Seven mysterious deaths. Secret symbols. Forbidden library.
The game is truly afoot. Brother William of Baskerville, on a theological mission, enters the wealthy Italian abbey with his novice, Adso of Melk, also the chronicler. What meets him is a mystery – the death of a brother monk. An abbot, desperate to keep the good name of the abbey intact tasks him with unraveling the mystery behind the death. More deaths follow.
To decipher the shadowy death of a brother monk, William, relying on his grey cells, starts his investigation in the abbey, where most exciting things happen at night time. Moving in shadows, he uncovers a great many secrets hidden in the abbey and that of monks who are not as innocent as they first appear to be. A classic mystery replete with red herrings, misleading clues, and unusual suspects; the book is a complex, and yet engrossing read.
Much more than a historical murder mystery, the Name of the Rose is also a chronicle of the politics of the Middle Ages. Completely integrated within the fabric of the murder mystery are the key figures of the time – Louis the Bavarian (the emperor), John VIII, Michael of Cesena, Fra Dolcino, William of Ockham, and the like.
As a commentary on the politics of the Middle Ages, and the rift between the Church and the Emperor, the Name of the Rose vividly depicts the power struggle between the Church represented by the Pope, John VIII, and the secular world represented by the Emperor, Louis IV. The order of the Spiritual Franciscans, backed by the emperor, believes in the doctrine of poverty and living without any ownership of property. Threatened by the idea of absolute poverty, the Pope and his believers condemn the order as heretics since the ideal of poverty threatens the wealth and the ownership of land amassed by the Pope in the name of the Church.
In bringing out the power divide, the book shrewdly illustrates the struggle for the centuries-old ownership of ideas in the name of which blood has been spilled since time immemorial. The Pope persecutes his rivals under the banner of heresy, using the instrument of inquisition to maintain his wealth and power.
Umberto Eco, a master of semiotics, spent a significant amount of time on the structure of the book. The author stated in an interview to the New York Times, “I decided not only to narrate about the Middle Ages. I decided to narrate in the Middle Ages, and through the mouth of a chronicler of the period” and thereby constructed the story in the form of a palimpsest. To give a flavor of authenticity, the present manuscript is designed as a crude Italian translation of a lost French translation written by Abbe Vallon. The present book is a reconstruction from the notebooks as the original fourteenth-century manuscript is lost to a lover’s quarrel. Umberto’s chosen mode of narration becomes all the more credible since the constructed book itself hints at a lost manuscript within.
The book assumes the reader’s knowledge of politics and events of the time as it is not only set in the Middle Ages but is also narrated by the “chronicler of the period”, which makes it at times difficult to follow. But no matter the difficulty, the book is a razor-sharp record of the Middle Ages suffused with ample wit and drama and a delightful murder mystery. Truly a classic.
Image credits: The Name Of The Rose, 1986