In 1327, Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy. Brother William of England and his scribe, who is a Benedictine novice and the narrator of the book, arrive to investigate. The timely arrival of the perspicacious brother coincides with seven bizarre deaths at the abbey. The spree of deaths from surreptitious cause claims the life of an illustrator Adelmo, a Greek scholar Venantius and other monks at the abbey.
The first fifty or so pages of the book brief the vicissitudes of churches and the emergence of heresies and diabolical practices. My first impression of the novel is some circuitous unraveling of heretics and power struggles between the Pope and the emperor. After trudging through these historical backgrounds and religious overtones, the book becomes nothing but an intriguing thriller in probing and unraveling the mystery behind all the deaths.
As Brother William traces to the bone of the mystery that seamlessly entangles the relationships and the paths overlapped the victims, it becomes perspicuous that the possession and theft of a banned book from the abbey library has led to deaths of scholars and monks in vein. The library, its promise, prestige, and prohibitions, incurs a strong hold on the monks and scholars who have sinfully coveted and hoped one day to violate all its secrets and gain access to the books.
While the abbot sternly tightens the grip of library access and so to thwart falsehood and infidel knowledge from befalling into wrong hands, barred from such knowledge only inevitably creates in everyone an insatiable lust for such materials. The very knowledge that the abbey has accumulated is used as barter goods, cause for pride, and motive for boasting and prestige. It has been adumbrated that a monk, stirred by unquenchable desires for intellect, will even comply with carnal desire in order to satisfy the pursuit of intellect.
The probe for truth sheds light as Brother William and our narrator indomitably ventures into the library, collects evidence, deciphers secret zodiac symbols and manuscripts, notes the library’s subjects and arrangements, and thus cracks the labyrinth. Evolution of the librarian appointments at the abbey indubitably gives away the identity of the ultimate devil.
The Name of the Rose deftly evokes the paradox of truth. As William’s investigation takes an unexpected turn and sheds light on the truth, the very unbearable truth that the abbot refuses to recognize and confronts out of fear of besmirching the abbey’s prestige, Eco obfuscates readers with the ghastly consequence and the toll of the obsession with truth. Does truth really set one free as the Bible claims, or does it come with a price?
The Name of the Rose is a tale of a master’s journey in unraveling a complicated knot at a sacred institution. Under the veneer of scholastic and immaculate surface is prurient desire for knowledge, covet for power, and scruple for sin against chastity. The interminable discourse on church history and heresy will be elucidated throughout the novel (so don’t be discouraged by the difficult prose), as relevant personalities will recount their involvement with heretics. It’s an ingenious, fine piece of literature that challenges bright minds.