My third read for the Historical Fiction challenge 2012.
This was an intriguing book - it was also quite a slow read for me as I felt I had to assimilate everything I read rather than rushing through it and not getting the actual meaning of the story.
Set in the 14th century with its background of the monasteries Eco himself is a scholar, a critic and what I later learnt (a new word for me) a semiotician. From the blog The Reading Life I understand that this means someone who studies a process to understand its signs for meaning.
The monks in the monastery in which the book is set are very involved in reading and literary matters. The Monastery is famous the world over for its erudition, for its books and they have a very handsome living copying out books for various libraries of the world. The library was not restricted to religious books but seemed to have a very wide range of topics to offer their monks. However there were very strict rules to be followed and the librarian and his assistant were the sole arbiters of who read what and if it was considered suitable reading material for whoever requested the book. There was an element of hidden animosity for this however which was not apparent at the very start of the story.
Apart from the actual story the book throws a lot of light on how harsh and cruel life was at this time - that many monks did not seem to have a religious calling but became monks out of family wishes or to escape deprivation, poverty and the cruelties of a harsh world. There would have been no way for these monks to be educated or to inculcate their love of learning and books other than joining a monastery.
Our main focus is however on the fact that a monk has been found murdered and the chief monk seeks his help to solve the murder, find out who the murderer is and in its turn hopefully will quiet the rumblings which the chief abbot is well aware of but which he ignores hoping it will go away. The murders do not stop and one becomes two to three to four to six and we are no closer to finding out who our murderer is.Everyone is suspect an the monastery becomes divided as each monk seems to suspect the other. On top of that the dangerous inquisitors arrive bringing with them their infamous methods of "extracting" guilt. Politics with all its machinations also surface in the monastery and it is not cynical to say that this was as bad if not worse than what exists today. The balance of power and the need to hang on to power was very strong then, as it is today. No difference whatsoever between a dictator of now with the monasteries of old!
Such a lot encapsulated into one book - murder, mayhem, intrigue, sex, politics, power so that the appeal is so widespread. One thing which had me puzzled (as it did another blogger) what on earth has the name of the book got to do with this story????
I found this to be a very slow but not a tedious read. I had to read it twenty five to thirty pages at a time but it gave me an insight into the 14th century - not a period I would have liked to have lived in though!