Setting: Paris and other European locations.
Story: Confused. However, so far as this poor reader could untangle the knots, the central character – Captain Simonini – is a vile, hateful creature; you name it, he hates it. The book takes us through his world, diverting from conspiracy, anarchy, and violence into occasional epicurean points of levity, wrapped up with some psychological mystery, and decorated by a brigade of historical personages. In short, it’s a big mess of a story, but with the forgery (or hoax, if you prefer) of the Protocols of The Elders of Zion safely entrenched at its heart.
Good Stuff: By golly, Umberto Eco knows his stuff. The novel is infused with an abundance of period detail – people, places, architecture, politics, crime, and food – that leaves you with a sense of wonder at Eco’s research. It may not make for easy reading, but you cannot have everything.
Not So Good Stuff: There’s a mountain of racism and anti-semitism here. Tons, and tons, and tons of it. Sentence after sentence of hate. Paragraphs of bile. If the author is attempting to highlight the evil of those belief systems, it went right past me. At times, it was like reading the script for a party political broadcast by an old style European fascist. (That may be the intent.)
This is no easy read. It’s hard work, and I’m not rushing to say that it is worth the effort. In brief, it may be a great work of art, but it’s a rotten piece of entertainment. To put it another way, it was too rich for my tastes. (Perversely, it might make a terrific film.)