Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose is probably the one book I’ve read so far that I’m really proud of finishing and not giving up on. To some this may sound stupid, but believe me when I say that I have 10 years worth of reasons to want to drop this book and never pick it up again.
It can happen to anybody: you have a high school teacher that wants to broaden your mind, give you something to make your teenage mind wander and explore the literary world, enjoy some good writing. I had this teacher. She was constantly referencing Umberto Eco’s work (although he wasn’t in any way included in the list of literature we were supposed to read and study), I can see why she enjoyed him so much and why she wanted to pass to the stupid lambs the experience of reading Eco’s masterpiece. But is the age of 15 appropriate for reads like this one? And more specifically, can a 15 yo brain comprehend everything that Eco does in The Name of the Rose?
To answer this question, I must first go into details about the book itself. I had seen the movie 3 or 4 years prior to picking up the book, and I remember that it was about some kind of a murder mystery and that there was a girl. Period, nothing else. The novel, however, has two main plot lines that, although completely different, blend together perfectly as the story progresses: while one of them is indeed related to mysterious murders and their investigation, the other one, surrounding the religious debates that are to take place in the abbey, requires that you’ve previously read of lot of big and important books, which would help you understand what the actual hell is going on. I don’t mean to say that you need to be like some kind of walking encyclopedia to read, understand and enjoy this book. I simply mean to say that reading this book will require a lot of additional page-turning and research (if you are like me and your knowledge on these topics is very, very limited).
I can see why The Name of the Rose can be intimidating, and you may have moments when you don’t want to continue with it. I had a lot of these moments because somewhere deep in my mind I had this “hate” for Eco simply because I associated him with school and my crazy-add Lit teacher. But, believe me when I say, this book is simply a great work of literature that needs to be read. It is a book about books and knowledge, and I honestly wanted to get lost in the abbey’s labyrinth of a library and just spend the rest of my life surrounded by all of its goodies. We can call it historical fiction, mystery, philosophy; regardless how you categorize it, Eco did a superb job creating a magnificent setting and filling it with just the right characters, and I am really glad I followed through with this one.
So finally, to answer my question, I really don’t believe that a young teenage mind can comprehend this work to its fullest, but it definitely needs to try. Because it’s literature like this that reminds me why I love books and reading. And since this review completely sounds so not like me, I have a small addition that I want to call “Notes to self”:
1. Research books and always buy editions with footnotes when Latin is present
2. Learn Italian so that you can reread the original
3. Next time you approach Umberto Eco remember he’s no longer your high school archenemy