This book is quite possibly one of the most beautiful works of literature I’ve ever had the privilege of encountering. It is at once a murder mystery, a theological and philosophical debate, a coming of age story, and a character study and commentary of monastery life in the middle ages. I’ve seen the movie many times, and now I truly understand what it means in the opening credits when it claims to be a palimpsest of this book. There was no way to tell this story in two hours without scraping clean the parchment and starting over.
Our lead characters are essentially the medieval teacher and apprentice equivalents of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, with Brother William taking to the Great Detective’s methodology in manner possibly superior to anything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. Umberto Eco’s gifts as a philosopher come shining through at every stage, on every side of any discussion or debate.
The book is a slow read, especially by modern standards, but for me it was anything but boring. Having a personal fascination with the middle ages and theological discourse, being a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast, being a bibliophile, and being one to enjoy thoughtful and elegant prose that doesn’t try to be too flowery, I feel as though this book was virtually tailor made for me to read. And this doesn’t even begin to describe the personal effect it had on me while reading it. I truly wish I’d read this book years ago, and as beautiful as it is, it makes me wish I could read it in the original Italian for a more direct experience.