I read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna over the summer, and (kind of) enjoyed its oddness. Actually, the book of Umberto Eco's that I wanted to read originally was The Name of the Rose, but for some reason I couldn't find it in bookstores. So I checked it out of the library.
The Name of the Rose isn't as bizarre as The Mysterious Flame, but it does deal with a lot of medieval Christian fanaticism (and there was quite a lot of that.) In the year 1327, Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey. Meanwhile, seven bizarre deaths happen, and Brother William must use his logic to uncover what's really afoot at the abbey. He is accompanied by his apprentice Abdo, who is the narrator of the novel, a sort of Watson to his Holmes. Though Abdo himself is fairly smart too.
A lot of the religious talk went over my head; I'm not familiar with any of the texts that were mentioned, so the book was rather confusing. You don't need to know about all of that to necessarily enjoy the book though. It was interesting to read about the various perceptions of sin and other aspects of religion that the monks and Brother William hold. However, I didn't really like the overall story. It was really overwritten: The Mysterious Flame was too, but less so.
I did like Brother William a little bit; he is religious, but also smart and sophisticated, though like all of the monks, he's really sexist. Everything is the fault of the "infidels or heretics" and women. Great. He has a pair of reading glasses, hitherto unknown to the monks. They're fascinated but also suspicious of new technologies like this, and aren't sure what to think. The Name of the Rose is full of intrigue in a seemingly holier-than-thou place, where nothing bad is supposed to happen. But as Eco demonstrates in this novel, nothing is what it seems.
This book wasn't nearly as good as The Mysterious Flame and I didn't like it at all. As I said, the descriptions are overwritten, and a lot of the other characters are really infuriating. And I really didn't like the instances when religions other than Christianity (Judaism, Islam) and women were disparaged. I know, in Middle Age Europe, that was the general consensus, but still, it was infuriating. As if it "is through women that the Devil penetrates men's hearts". Sure. Men never did anything evil themselves. Never.
The upshot of all this is that I actually didn't finish the book. I read about three fourths of it and gave up. But I felt like I should post a review since I got so far in, explaining my objections.
Read The Name of the Rose:
- if you like Umberto Eco
- if you like Italian fiction
- if you are interested in medieval times
- if you like books set in abbeys