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Umberto Eco: Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose)

I have doubts as to whether this novel should really be here. It is, after all, just a murder mystery. It is a very clever murder mystery and full of much learning, highly derivative, very intellectual, witty, superbly written, owing a lot to Eco’s interest in semiotics and an excellent introduction to medieval reasoning (seasoned with semiotic analysis). It is also a very enjoyable read and one that cannot fail to entrance the intelligent reader, particularly those who like murder mysteries and have a reverence for Sherlock Holmes. The main character is called William of Baskerville and, while he is a medieval monk and has no hound-like links, he is clearly based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation while his adversary – Jorge of Burgos – is clearly a combination of Professor Moriarty and, more particularly, Jorge Borges, whose blindness he shares. The plot is relatively simple. William of Baskerville goes to an abbey where someone has been murdered, to investigate the murder. While he is there, in good murder mystery fashion, more murders take place. Using logical deduction, poking around where he perhaps ought not to poke around and, of course, indulging in a bit of twentieth century semiotics, he finds a very rational explanation for the murders, contrary to the view of others, who suspect that the causes are supernatural. It is great fun, brilliantly written, all told with tongue in cheek and very clever but I am not sure that it is great literature.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Bompiani
First published in English 1983 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Translated by William Weaver