Thursday, 10 October 2013

Holy Theological Coma: THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco

Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
I don't know why I should feel embarrased that I did not like nor appreciate this book. I am confident in my intelligence. I don't claim to be sporting the latest in super intelligence, but I am comfortable with the fact that the reason I did not like this book has nothing to do with it being 'beyond my intellectual reach'.

Still, when a book is regarded as a Classic. A work of genius. A “novel of stunning intelligence, linguistic richness, thematic complexity”(that's off the back of the book). And is as admired as this one, even the most confident reader can feel a little shy about coming forwards with a negative review. Shy because if the book is of “stunning intelligence”, what does that say about the intelligence of a reader who does not appreciate the book?

With such pressure to avoid looking like the village idiot, it would interest me to know how many people rate this book favourably (such as giving the book 3 stars when they feel it should be 2) and what they really want to say is “as a work of fiction, it, really, was not that great” (that's not off the back of the book, but will be off the bottom of my review..when I get there).

Let's break it down. Briefly (unlike Eco, I know how to keep it short) dissect the sum of its parts.
And there were really only two parts. Two roads. Two roads travelling paralell to each other through this novel of stunning intelligence, linguistic richness and thematic complexity.
One road is a medieval mystery set in a monastery, and as a medieval mystery set in a monastery, it was simplistic and on its own, could not stand alone.
The other road is a journey of over intellectualising and I loathe over intellectualising. Most of the time it is just included in a book because the author is carrying all this knowledge in their head and they want to flex their brain muscle and flash readers of the world their guns of knowledge.
It is the equivalent of the author who does all the clever research for their book and then needs to include all that research in their book so it does not go to waste.

So, as I travel the roads of simplistic medieval mystery and self indulgent brain flexing I walk, quite unsuspecting, into an unwelcome glut of theology. Like a fat boy devouring a buffet of cheese, Eco's ramblings about theology and philosophy dominates the offering and fills the room with an odorous fug. And for me, a person who cannot stand theological or philosophical discussion, it was a story killer.

I was suffocated and stifled. Unable to breath under the avalanche of manifest Catholicism.

It may seem strange then when I admit there was a time where I loved the book and found it both stylish and classy. Not so strange though when I admit that I only felt that way for the first 50 pages or so. Everything beyond Brunellus' horse was a tribulation for me and it went from love, to kind of still enjoy, to loathe and with about 100 pages to go I actually felt a knot in my gut at the idea of forcing myself to finish it. Mouldy old cheese will do that to you. Bind you up inside.

I understand that not everyone is going to feel this way about the book as there were personal taste issues thrown into the pot.
For me, this was, as you can tell from this review, not a marriage made in heaven. It has fortified my resolve to stay clear of historical fiction themed around monks and nuns.
Religion is not a part of my life by choice (nor is philosophical meanderings either, mind you), but for me, if you cut out the fat, cut out the ramblings, the theology and philosophy and the bla bla, as a work of fiction, it still was not that great.

- MM

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