Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Unless you’re interested in esoteric 13th century debates on religion, such as did Jesus ever laugh and did Jesus own his clothes, then this is not the book for you—or me, for that matter.  I thought this was going to be a murder mystery, and it is, to some degree, but that aspect of the novel is buried in unending discussions of what constitutes religious heresy.  This novel is very long with reams of inscrutable allusions, incomprehensible vocabulary, and lots of untranslated Latin passages.  I can’t help wondering if some of my issues with this book are actually with the translator, William Weaver, but I’m certainly not going to read it again, if, in fact, another translation exists.  The action takes place in an Italian monastery, and the main character is Brother William of Baskerville, who has a Sherlock-Holmes-like knack for interpreting clues in the mysterious deaths of several monks.  William is the mentor for our young narrator, Adso, who tags along on William’s week-long investigation of the monastery, as the body count rises.  Several startling facts come to light, including the periodic visits by a woman, the more-than-brotherly affection between several monks, and the extreme inaccessibility of the library.  There is more than one history lesson here, but I found most of the historical discussions too dense for me to really grasp.  I did gather that Pope John XXII and Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV were seriously at odds, and the monks aligned themselves with one or the other, but I couldn’t keep up with who believed what.  There are the Minorites, the Fraticelli, the Dolcinians, the Catharists, the Cluniacs—just to name a few factions.  At one point, Adso’s response to a monk’s description of one of the sects is “What a complicated story.”  My sentiments exactly.

No comments: