A book about books, this is the story of a young novice in the 1300’s who goes to a mysterious abbey with his master, a monk called William Of Baskerville. At that place, a papal delegation is going to be sent to debate religious doctrine that is tearing apart the fabric of society at the time, setting the people, the church, and royalty against each other.
But as they arrive, a mysterious death occurs, and William and his faithful novice are tasked with finding out what is behind it. Before they can do that, the bodies start to pile up, and they realise that there is a lot more going on at the monastery than at first appears. The library there is one of the finest in the world, but it guarded not just by a formidable librarian, but also by mysterious means. It’s a labyrinth where the uninitiated may not enter without their fate being sealed. The deaths are clearly connected to the library, but what book is sealing their fates, and why? And can they solve the crimes before the papal delegation arrives?
Though in plot the book is a murder mystery, with William of Baskerville as the detective, Umberto Eco himself is a historian of the period, and takes you deep into the heart of religious and philosophical thought of the age. He evokes the time period incredibly well, with his grasp of monastic life and the societal expectations of the time. He shows how political books were, in a time when most people couldn’t read, and any shift in interpretation of a religious event or of passage in the bible could have ramifications that could lead to schism in the church and could topple world rulers. Knowledge truly was power.
In some ways it’s a sad book, there is so much darkness and repression in that age, but ultimately, it’s fascinating. An insightful and intelligent book about murder, religion, death, and of course, books.
Read It If: a bit dense and wordy for some, will please those of you who love history of this period and who love books and ideas. A master work.