Friday, April 06, 2012

The Name of the Rose Readathon

Friday Confession: I very rarely read translated texts. Explanations for my blatant elitism do exist, chief among them being that I'm so obsessed with Victorian novels, I have a devil of a time tearing myself away from prose texts written from 1780-1910. They are the delight of my soul, my reason for living and all that. Some might (rightly) argue that such specificity is confining, but I'm amazed at how often I stumble upon yet another Victorian novel to add to my TBR list. I also maintain the rhythm of prose is inevitably lost in translation, resulting in language that feels stilted, that lacks flow.This constantly interrupts the narrative and takes me outside the story.

Yes, I am a snob. I admit it. 

Deep down, I know I would benefit from spreading my literary wings -- and most likely enjoy myself in the process. I was, therefore, thrilled when Caro from Reading Against the Clock announced she would be hosting a readathon for The Name of the Rose, taking place Saturday and Sunday. I've heard fantastic things about Umberto Eco, his intriguing plots and superhuman cleverness. But being the elitist that I am (see above) I've not read a single word of his -- I'm ready to change that.

The Name of the Rose takes place in 1327. William of Baskerville (not the hound, in case you were wondering) investigates an Italian abbey where murders modeled on the Book of Revelation begin popping up. Contained within the mystery are deeper themes of religion, politics and the threatening nature of reformation. Lately, Medieval and Renaissance European history has been calling me. I tune in to History Channel documentaries on bubonic plague, Elizabeth I, Italian architecture and the like at the drop of a hat, so this readathon has serendipitously arrived at the perfect moment. Hopefully Eco's genius will feed my curiosity and encourage me to dig deeper into this fascinating time period.

For a moment, my participation was in jeopardy, as I've been unable to get my hands on a copy of the book that's priced within my budget. Said book budget is currently set at zero dollars and zero cents, which might explain my difficulties in procuring the novel. But miracle of miracles, my small-town library carries The Name of the Rose. Seriously, this is a sign from heaven. The small collection of books available to citizens of my town (I'm not sure it warrants the term library) contains just one Edith Wharton title and only four of Jane Austen's six completed novels. So it truly is an Easter Miracle that this humble library carries anything by Umberto Eco.

Provided the library isn't closed for the Easter Holiday, which would definitely put on a damper on my little phenomenon, I'll pick up the novel as the readathon commences. Because it's Easter weekend, I doubt I'll make much progress, but I'll be adding little updates on the experience to this post throughout the readathon. Go here if you'd like to read along!

Happy Easter Weekend to all!

Sunday 4:24 PM Well, I did manage to pick up The Name of the Rose from the library yesterday. Somehow I came away with five other books, including a Georgette Heyer novel I've not yet read. Whoops. This gorgeous Easter weekend, sadly, has kept me from indulging in the novel as much as I'd hoped. With such lovely, blooming weather the dogs were begging to be walked, eggs required boiling and dying, potatoes are being cooked for a salad.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the 70 pages I managed to read. William of Baskerville is a medieval incarnation of the quintessential Sherlock Holmes whose powers of deduction are narrated by his novice sidekick. Already I've read some great dialogues on religion, heresy and the problematics of the Inquisition. Fascinating stuff. Favourite quote so far:

I like also to listen to words, and then I think about them. 

Tuesday 7:17 PM This update is arriving long after the readathon has ended, but I still wanted to sum up my experience. As predicted, the holiday weekend didn't allow much time for independent reading. I lounged around with my family while idly watching DVDs, partook of the season's first batch of potato salad and devoured my weight in sugar. By staying up into the early morning hours, I did get through a small chunk of The Name of the Rose. Day One: check. Day Two: half a check? Reading a total of 137 pages appears as though the readathon didn't do me much good. Truth to be told, I know I wouldn't have managed the first quarter of the novel if it weren't for the event. It encouraged me to make good use of my time and carve out a chunk of the busy weekend for this fabulous text.

I've been properly sucked in now. A fresh corpse has complicated the mystery of the abbey, but so far I'm just as intrigued by the philosophical dialogues on religion and politics. Immensely readable, William of Baskerville's compassionate and progressive logic continues to make me a fan of Eco's nod to the most memorable detective of all time. Check it out:

But sometimes it is right to doubt...Of us God demands that we apply our reason to many obscure things about which Scripture has left us free to decide. And when someone suggests you believe in a proposition, you must first examine it to see whether it is acceptable, because our reason was created by God, and whatever pleases our reason can but please divine reason.

I'm happily buried under a variety of books and other projects this week, but I look forward to watching Baskerville solve this medieval mystery and listening closely to all he has to say along the way.


Caro said...

I'm so glad you were able to find a copy! My home town's library is pretty much the same as yours- you're lucky if you can find Homer, let alone some Umberto Eco.
I know what you mean about needing to read books in their original language. When a book, especially a classic, is in a language I speak (only Spanish and English, I'm afraid), I can't read a translation. My mind instantly starts wondering what are the exact words the author used, how this choice influences the mood of the story. So I guess we're both snobs ;)

amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

I haven't read a ton of books in translation, maybe a dozen or so (not counting the ancient Greeks I was assigned in school), but I've never noticed a flow problem. I wonder if perhaps it varies according to skill of the translator? For that matter, I wonder if the original prose from other traditions might seem more stilted compared to English (a different style)? All speculations...

Regardless, translation is a tricky issue because it can be so difficult just to begin with. I've seen bilingual bloggers talk about the English translation missing out on subtle jokes or wordplay or regionalism simply because it's too difficult. (And I've wondered how Shakespeare can be possibly translated, but I'm pretty sure he has been.) On the other hand, unless we are language prodigies, most of us have to read translations if we want to try some of the best-known literature. (For example, I can only read about three words of French, and there are so many French authors I want to try.)

I'm glad to hear you found a copy, so fingers crossed that the library's open! I'll be reading along too for at least part of the weekend. (And I'm really excited to finally be reading a contemporary Italian author!)

Diana said...

Caro: Snobs unite! ;)

Yes, I can see why you would be distracted reading something that's translated when you speak the original language. Unfortunately, I never learned enough of French to read much of anything in its original, so you're way ahead of me there.

I do wish I knew more of it though. I'd love to read works by Moliere, Hugo, etc. in French.

In my defense, I did my best with French but throughout my high school years was stuck with teacher who didn't actually teach much French. Needless to say, it sort of smashed my dreams of living in France like a true Parisienne.

Diana said...

Amanda: I'm also excited about reading a contemporary Italian writer. I look forward to reading your thoughts on Eco.

I think you've brought up some great points about translation. I never considered that what feels stilted to me might be due to stylistic differences.

One of my dear friends is Portugese, and she's often complained about translations. I remember her saying that a translation of Wuthering Heights (the word Wuthering, to begin with, is difficult to translate) was so awful she didn't even feel like it was the same novel. As you said, I can't even imagine how one would go about translating Shakespeare!

But on the other hand, if readers want access to these texts, then translation is often the only option.

amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

It seems like this should be much drier than it is, with all the dialogues and debates, but they manage to stay interesting, and Eco seems to add in a new piece of the mystery just often enough to keep me hooked. I hope you find more time to read this this weekend and continue to enjoy it!

Danny said...

Just added this to my list

Diana said...

Amanda: I agree. I find myself getting sucked into the dialogues as much as the mystery of abbey.

I also want to look more into the inspiration for the abbey like you did. The Gothic atmosphere Eco has created is incredible: I love the way the abbey seems simultaneously peaceful and sinister. For some reason, the wintry season just enhances all of this for me.

Diana said...

Danny: Brilliant! I think you would enjoy this one. :)