Saturday, September 22, 2018
The Name of the Rose---sometimes reading is a big chore
Little did I know that The Name of the Rose is a uniquely difficult book to read. Nor did I know that it covers minute details of the history of the Catholic church set in the 1300s when the papacy had moved to Avignon and groups of priests were hunting wayward groups of heretics. Minute details. Hundreds of pages of minute details, some of them written in Latin even. I couldn't even begin to keep all the details straight. As I listened to the audiobook my mind would wander or I'd zone out, which made the reading experience less than optimal, needless to say. Eco called his book a murder mystery at its core. I would agree but would add that the core is very small and completely wrapped up in church history.
So why did I finish the book, you ask? There were moments of brilliance which were dispersed so evenly throughout the book so that just about the time I'd be ready to call UNCLE and quit I'd stumble upon one of those moments which would hold me enthralled for a few pages. For example, the book starts off in the prologue with a disclaimer from the author that he has translated a found document which is the terrible tale of Adso of Melk. He is uncertain if it is worthy of publication. The reader, therefore, is set up from the beginning to suspend her disbelief. The book is really about faith, after all.
By far the most brilliant of few brilliant moments was the dream sequence. Adso has a fantastical dream which goes on for pages and pages and turns all the church history on its head and makes fun of just about everything. Kenneth Achity, writing a review for the LA Times, called the dream sequence "the richest in 20th-century literature." It was made even more funny and fantastical by the narrator of the audiobook who read it at break-neck speed as if the listener was also experiencing a dream. I wish I had the print edition so I could go back and reread it for myself.
After bumping up the narration speed to 1.5 and the likelihood of finishing the book came into focus I started comparing the historical faith message of the book to what we are living today. Some people of faith are so intolerant of anyone or anything that is different than what they believe, like the monks in the book who fought over things like if Jesus wanted his followers to denounces money and take vows of poverty or if he ever laughed. In today's society only a narrow definition of Christianity is acceptable to some followers like the monks who were so quick to call others heretics, hoping they would burn in hell. Classic books are those books which speak to people throughout the ages. This one spoke to me this way.
Nevertheless, I will never, ever tell anyone to read this book but lots of reviews will make you want to. For a great summary of the book, read this one at Medium. For positive reviews try the LA Times or NYT. My favorite is a commentary written 30 years after the book was published is found in Publishing Perspectives. DiCamillo, the author of this review, says that rereading The Name of the Rose is truly a pleasure which never disappoints him. Hmm. I don't think I will ever dare reread this book. But one should never say never, right? Maybe I'll just take another peek at that dream sequence.... some day.