To sum up this unique book in one short sentence is nearly impossible; but if I must, I would say that this book is about everything and nothing. Confused? So will you be, if I have interested you, by this review, to read it. By everything, I meant that this book covers wide and various (read: complex) topics around 14th century. I'm not actually familiar with this era, and must grope throughout the book to try to understand the historical background. Italy during the Middle Age seemed to be full of power struggle between the state and the Church; disputes between various orders inside Catholic Church; heresy, mystics, and thirst of theological study.
Our protagonists are William of Baskerville—a Franciscan friar and an inquisitor, and Adso of Melk—a Benedictine novice who helps William as his secretary. They came as guests at a Benedictine monastery, where, in a week, a theological disputation between the Pope and Friars Minor who was suspected of heresy, was going to be held. Unfortunately, a monk has been mysteriously found dead, and the abbot asked William's help to investigate the case, which seemed to be related to the monastery's library—a magnificent one with ancient manuscripts, with a labyrinth inside, but was full of dark mysteries. Within the seven days of unfolding the mystery, five more monks were dead—murdered—and many layers, signs, and paths began unfolding but leading, apparently, to nowhere. With it, the book also speaks about many heavy topics which seemed unrelated, confusing, and finally ended nowhere. This was what I meant earlier by 'everything but nothing'.
The magnificent (probably the biggest in the whole country) monastery owns a large collection of manuscripts from scientists and theologians from around the world (let alone important relics and valuable treasures hidden inside their vault). It should have been the centre of the civilization; but it mysteriously guarded from anyone, restricted, even from the monks, by some complicated designs and a dangerous labyrinth. They were scholar-monks, but forbidden to access of certain books. **spoiler alert** - In the end, it was burned down by the villain—library and the whole monastery; nothing survived. Everything, then nothing. **spoiler ends**
In this book, too, there were debates around poverty in the Catholic Church—whether or not Jesus disciples and monks were allowed to have personal possessions, etc. (without final conclusion and not related to the murder). They were also debating whether or not monks were allowed to laugh or joke. The later finally led to Aristotle's missing second book: Poetics, which spoke about tragedies and comedies. This book seemed to be the main cause of the murders; however, just as William and Adso seemed to have solved the mystery and found the murderer, we found out that the suspect did not do the murders, and some of the cases were not really murders. Again, everything, but means nothing.
In short, this book contains some chaotic ideas—some are true but the rest are false, and Eco let us readers to have our own opinion and perspective, and finally make our own conclusion. I am personally interested in two aspects. First, that knowledge should be opened to the world. Instead of banning (dangerous) books, the authority (country, school, parents, etc.) should have given us freedom to read, but with proper education. That way we are trained to sort the good from the bad from our readings. Second, the correlation of the heresy issue with the cause of the murders. Both are so relevant to the modern terrorism which is mostly rooted from religious people. Piety and heresy are divided only by a very thin line; sometimes a pious man and a murderer both love God, but the one humbly seeks and follows God's will, while the other only focus on his own will (arrogantly thinks it correspond with God’s). After finishing this book, I remembered Pontius Pilate's 'what is truth’? This book answered it beautifully; that love needs humility in order to be true, without that, it can lead to evil, destruction, and death.
Final verdict: 4 to 5