|Image sourced from here|
That is my opinion in one sentence. Feel free to stop reading now, as that is pretty much the long and the short of it. Eco seems so desperate to prove to everyone how incredibly clever he is, even though he is a leading academic in his field of semiotics as far as I can tell. So with this incredible insecurity shining through, he takes a wonderful premise for a story, but is incapable of keeping his hand off it for two pages at a time, so we get 500pp of "look at me! look at me!!!!".
I am really, REALLY annoyed. I saved this book for close to the end of my Around the World trip, as it was supposed to be wonderful. I kept reading even though I didn't enjoy it at all, as people were all "I didn't like it except for the end WHICH WAS AMAZING!" It's not. I promise it is not at all. I picked who the mastermind was 100 pages from the end as I was so bored and skipping half the pages of blatant symbolism that us-normal-peons-are-too-stupid-to-understand-but-look-how-wonderfully-smart-Eco-is, and thought I would have some fun picking the most preposterous person. Hmmmm.
Also, if you can't speak Latin, you're kinda stuffed. Because even though the book is translated from Italian to English, they decided not to translate the Latin. Because everyone speaks Latin these days. Uh huh. I thought this would be okay. I thought it would be fun and I might learn something, so I translated the first couple of phrases on post it notes, in case I needed to translate a couple of things later. This got old after about 30 pages. Especially as the monks talk more, as apparently, half their speech has to be in Latin. I know they did speak Latin, but translate it in a translation ffs. As you keep reading you can't help feeling that everyone knows more than you. Later we throw German into the mix too, because, you know, we can.
This would be a forgivable, although annoying, problem except intersperse the Latin with:
- Complicated, unnecessary most of the time, obscure Catholic politics of the 12th, 13th and 14th Centuries. Long, long, long sections that discuss which weird cults (which are only cults when people declare them cults, and that can change Pope to Pope) hate who and did what;
- Weird Catholic/medieval symbolism of Bible stories (thank god I've read that cover to cover a few times) and then odd, mutated, mythological creatures on steroids that are described in EXCRUCIATING detail and never mentioned again;
- Constant ranting about how women are disgusting, evil, not good for anything, and we can't work out why God created them. I get that was normal Catholic dogma in the 14th Century. However, we are talking about how if a woman is attractive and you notice her and are attracted to her, she is obviously a witch as why would you look at her otherwise and it's all her pact with the Devil. It was all too close to my own experiences and the teaching I was subjected to within the church around 2000. That just makes me feel ill, that in 6-7 centuries, in some groups/sections of Christianity, that hadn't changed that much; and
- Ridiculously long and complicated (half in Latin) philosophical debates about life, the universe, everything, logic and rhetoric. When they started debating the philosophical merits of unicorns (which they believe existed) for several pages, there were audible screams.
I just felt the entire time Eco was having a pissing competition with someone, and I didn't know who. Other academics? Look how good I am, I can write academic papers and best selling novels? Or just the world? All I know is that I got dragged into one insecure man's willy jostling and I feel incredibly deceived and a little dirty about the whole thing.