An abbey on top of a mountain, hooded monks singing psalms in the dim, flickering light of candles, and ancient scrolls hidden in the library labyrinth. Reader’s imagination will do the rest, prompted now and then with a detail of this wondrous world.
Umberto Eco took a different approach writing The Name of the Rose. He produced long-winded descriptions, often itemized and encyclopedic, leaving little to the reader’s imagination but requiring a lot of his patience. I found myself skipping whole passages, thinking that clean and simple prose is not only more pleasing, but also more effective.
Descriptions were not the only thing that suffered from Eco’s verbosity. The sheer volume of words employed in the doctrinal debates obfuscated their true importance. Did Jesus laugh or not? What is the difference between the heresies of Dulcinians and Fraticelli? Did the apostles own their things or did they just have the use of them? These were issues that truly mattered to the monks, in fact their lives depended on the answers. But as Eco reproduced the abstract polemics, quoted authorities big and small, he failed to communicate their immediacy. And if the reader doesn’t feel that immediacy, doesn’t understand what’s at stake, it’s hard for him to care.
Eco was one of the writers I was enchanted with in my early twenties. I used to be dazzled by his erudition and mysticism. I used to think his convoluted narratives were like iconostasis — both shrouding and hinting at some esoteric truths, the meaning of which I’d discover, if I have the patience and the wit.
Well, I guess my patience has grown thinner since then, I stopped equating enigmatic with profound, and a hundred pages of doctrinal soliloquies became more a penance than an invitation.
I guess some books need to be read at a certain time in life in order to resonate.