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November 29, 2004

The Name of the Rose

I'm not a big fiction-reader. Yes, I understand the uses of literature, but with so much to understand about the world, I don't have much time left over for novels. I re-read Orwell's Coming Up For Air every spring for a few years. As a kid, and later as an adult, I loved the Foundation Trilogy, before Asimov killed it through absolutism. Science Fiction was a fiction with ideas, and the fact that those three books worked for me at both ages shows the importance of plot, as well as "substance." (Short stories are different. Part of the reason I like Joseph Epstein's short stories is that they read like his essays.(

Which brings us to The Name of the Rose.

Let's face it, the Middle Ages are cool. And Eco, for all of his weird politics later on, let you inhabit them the way you, as a reader, would want - with other readers. Europe never really stood still, of course, be here's that last gasp of tranquility and misery, just before everything started to change.

Eco clearly admires Roger Bacon, an English monk with a scientific bent. He's looking forward to the scientific revolution (a revolution that the late Norman Cantor suggests was cut short by the plague). He fills the book with ideas - life in a medieval monastery, Artistotle, the destructive power of humor, superstition - but keeps the plot moving along at a brisk pace.

Eco is, in fact, one of the authors who helped revive plot, when it looked like novels were headed for permanent prison in their characters' inner lives. He discusses both plot and plotting in a slim little volume, Postscript to the Name of the Rose, which came out several years after the original. If you can get your hands on it, it's worth reading.

You read Name of the Rose once for the mystery, and again for the texture. A great novel, indeed.

There are more reviews here, but they're all non-fiction.

Posted by joshuasharf at November 29, 2004 02:31 PM | TrackBack

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