Written by Umberto Eco
Translated by William Weaver
Published by Vintage Classics
Review by Cecile Ng
“Thus looking at the Middle Ages means looking at our infancy, in the same way that a doctor, to understand our present state of health, asks us about our childhood”.
Umberto Eco has created what is perhaps the most unconquerable and daunting historical and meta-detective fiction of our time. As our protagonist, the intellectually prided Franciscan friar William of Baskerville – a nod to the great detective canon Sherlock Holmes, and his apprentice – the dedicated Adso of Melk, maneuver among real and pseudo-historical figures to unveil the hidden plot that propels a series of murder. One such discourse involved in the plot is the adaptationist view of knowledge. Filled with numerous phrases in untranslated Latin, old German, pidgin, and other languages lost to modern readers, as well as cultural references deeply rooted in the medieval religious and philosophical context, The Name of The Rose is almost unreadable for any contemporary eyes without the help of companion books or a well-informed schema of medieval theological history.
It is only until one comes to understand the connotation and horde of research and conflict attached to the tedious strings of book names, architecture, dreams, and archives, that doors of comprehension will open themselves to a deeper revelation. Words are but signs that could be everything and nothing.
If the attempt to preserve knowledge and history is merely a vain self-consolation on our part, as futile as Adso’s journey back to the Abbey at the end to salvage the fragments of the aedificium, why do we do it at all? The genius of The Name of the Rose lies in giving neither answers nor solutions, but an observation – in this world scorch in flame constantly awaiting the descend of the anti-Christ, our lives are but an adaptation of what has come before. We are our ancestors, a helpless Adso with nothing but the education passed down from his master at his disposal, forever chasing after a name of which that is already lost. Yet, unlike our protagonists, we are given this wisdom and insight by Umberto before it is too late. What is to be done with this knowledge, thus, rest entirely in the hands of the readers alone.
Cecile Ng is a final year student pursuing her B.A. in English Studies in Hong Kong.