*spoilers: DO NOT READ ON IF UNPREPARED*
*sigh* I’m slightly embarrassed to admit how I came across this book. But I’m going to tell you anyway, because what’s fun about a post without a lavish dose of humiliation and shame? A few years ago, when I read Northanger Abbey for the first time
and immediately fell in love with Henry Tilney and watched the film obsessively over and over again and reacted in a emphatically normal, non-fangirl way, I was intrigued by the descriptions of the novel Catherine was described as reading, a certain Udolpho. One very Italian male name beginning-with-U and ending-in-O sounds much the same as any other, am I right?
I could not be more wrong. It seems I cannot read–which in itself makes this blog almost miraculous, you’re welcome– and so when I came to read this masterpiece that I thought had so inspired Austen (“Ooh, isn’t it interesting that it’s a murder mystery! How cultured and generally genius-esque that woman was!”), I instead painstakingly sourced Umberto Eco –who is, by the way, the AUTHOR. Not the TITLE. Just on the offchance that anyone is as thick as I obviously am– and duly began. Even the fact that it was written in 1980 still didn’t ring any bells. If you’re starting to doubt whether I’m qualified to even exist, I wouldn’t blame you.
The monk detectives (and there’s a phrase I thought I’d never use) Brother William of Baskerville and his
crafty henchman sidekick distinctly-uncrafty companion, the novice Adso, are employed by the Abbot of the abbey they are visiting to solve a gruesome murder/suicide. Basically, it begins with William predicting the name of a horse he has never seen or heard of and its whereabouts, and just gets weirder from there. Far from doing their job and solving this first death, their presence instead appears to spur the murderer into a prolonged further killing spree, so quite the opposite effect, really; almost every other person they talk to is killed a few pages later, in a manner which begins to get a bit predictable after a while. You’d think they might have spotted the pattern a bit earlier. At the end, the least likely person, a decrepit and blind monk called Jorge, turns out to be the murderer. I mean, one or the other would be improbable enough, but decrepit AND blind? There are some limits to the bounds of my imagination, and they involve the final chase around a pitch black labyrinth in which this same old, blind man (did I mention that he is very old and very blind?) manages not only to evade the sprightly monks and but also to set the abbey on fire at the same time. Hmm.
♥ Is every reader expected to be multilingual? There is a lot of Latin in this book. And I speak as a Classicist and as someone very fond of the Latin language in general, but THERE IS A LOT OF LATIN IN THIS BOOK.
♥ P.S. The vast majority of this Latin is untranslated. Ha.
♥ Why are the names of all the monks so similar? I had real trouble remembering who was who, and got a huge shock at one point when a character I thought had been killed off several chapters earlier popped up again.
The Big Scoop:
Oh, Eco. Initial disclaimer: I actually am very interested in history, and Italy in general, but this was a tad specialist. Maybe I’m just bitter because I was expecting Austen-tatiousness galore (see what I did there?) but the lengthy philosophical reflections on interpretations of the Bible and/or religion in general began to get in the way of finding the killer, both inside and outside the book. As in, I’m pretty sure that William and co. would have saved a few more lives had he cut down on the profound revelations, and I’m sure that I would have finished the book a bit quicker. To be brutally honest, I felt like the author was trying to get everything he was interested in in there (and I’ve googled him, and he is a medieval Italian history fan. No surprises there.) and ended up doing none of those things very well. Of course, I enjoyed the book, but *cough* did end up flicking past a few pages here and there, just because I didn’t understand (and still don’t) the rival Pope situation and who was ordering who around. In my humble opinion, history books mixed with thrillers are often really entertaining as well as informative, but this was neither. I don’t know whether Eco thought that he was writing for a fellow expert in medieval history, but I am definitely not one of those and I couldn’t get to grips with it at all.
4, I’m afraid. But I’m completely aware that it’s probably me as the reader who is the issue, rather than the book as a whole. And it did give me the opportunity to make various jokes about monks/monkey business, which I appreciated.