by Umberto Eco
I love this book, much as I love the movie it inspired, mostly for the world it so vividly recreates: a 14th-century monastery in the mountains of northern Italy, populated by monks, peasants – and an apparent serial killer. Although this medieval community is a great place to visit in a book, you probably wouldn’t want to live there. Not unless you enjoy fetching water from wells, laboring from dawn to dusk, and adhering to the strict lifestyle of a monk.
Eco, a scholar specializing in signs and symbols, depicts this world of bookish monks and warring religious factions with painstaking detail. (Alas, at times the reader might also experience pain; Eco’s lengthy philosophical and historical conversations can grow tiresome.)
The plot is driven a la Agatha Christie – someone is picking off abbey denizens, one by one – and the protagonist is courtesy of Arthur Conan Doyle – a brilliant Franciscan friar named William of Baskerville investigates the murders – but above all it’s the atmospheric sense of time and place that makes this tale so absorbing.
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