Umberto Eco is one of those authors that you consistently hear about – a reference here, a mention there, but never have a rabid following. They’re respected, but certainlly no J.K. Rowling.
Umberto Eco’s books deserve a much wider readership and appreciation, for the simple reason that they are brilliant. At once witty and deep, scholarly yet adventurous, Eco’s delicious sense of pulp and high intellectual drama is peerless. His books are unique in this sense in that they are de facto works of philosophy that are also highly enjoyable and readable tales that can be read simply for their own pleasure.
The Name of the Rose was Eco’s debut novel, and that alone is saying something; I would rate this book better than most author’s entire oeuvre. Part thrilling murder mystery and defective story, part intellectual and academic meditation on the nature of scholarship and language and part coming-of-age story, The Name of the Rose is masterful on multiple layers. It can be read effortlessly as a medieval Sherlock Holmes story (one of the two leading characters is William of Baskerville) but it also works just as well as a philosophical demonstration of Eco’s day-job academic ideas, steeped in postmodernism and deconstructionism.
Set during the high middle ages, during the epic, centuries long clash between pope and emperor, this book even manages to mix in high political and cultural drama. The final confrontation between bad guy and good guy is both dramatic and intellectually stimulating and meaningful. Again, very few authors could possibly manage this. Eco’s books work very well on multiple levels.
This is top tier writing; a great example of the power and value of books and the written word over all other types of media.