A postmodernistConspiracy Thriller by Umberto Eco, retelling the stories of many historical hoaxes, humbugs and forgeries - where the most important one is that of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which triggered the onset of anti-Semitism and was one of the indirect causes of Jews being a scapegoat for Nazi during the World War II. Considered to be one of the most controversial literary works published in the recent time because of its faithful rendition of many anti-Semitic statements, the novel is nonetheless highly popular. Its style and plot resembles those of the other novels by Eco, especially Foucault's Pendulum, where Protocols also play an important role.The main character, Simone Simonini, is an amnesiac lawyer working theoretically as an antiquary and practically as an informant for the intelligence service and a forger of documents. His mind is full of partial memories, racial and religious prejudices and conspiracy theories based on them - and though he is not always sure of the difference between them, he manages to make a decent amount of money by using them creatively. Besides obvious problems connected with his profession he must deal with a nosy priest who has a habit of breaking into his house and leave notes in Simone's own diary, implying that he knows more about Simone's life than Simone himself. Oh, and there is also a cellar full of corpses, a hysteric woman with two personalities, and bunch of cultists worshipping Satan - all that on the background of Franco-Prussian War, the movement of Garibaldi, and The Gay Nineties.
Artistic License - History: While the "Taxil hoax" is historically true, Diana Vaughan was probably an ordinary secretary with Protestant beliefs, and not a mentally disturbed young woman. Ironically, Taxil's real-world claims are still taken seriously by some people these days.
Because I'm Good at It: it is true that Simonini's job implies many unethical activities, but he didn't really have a choice after he was practically forced to become an apprentice for a forger lawyer who disinherited him.
Freudian Excuse: the leitmotiv of Simonini's childhood are his father musings on evil Jesuits and, on the other hand, those of his grandfather, which concern Jews. Being turned down by a young Jewish girl on his only attempt at a pick-up line couldn't have helped, either.
Shout-Out: most notably to Italo Calvino and to Dumas's Joseph Balsamo - not only does Eco make Simonini explicitly refer to this book (and meet its author) but also places in the novel many plot references to Dumas's book.
Shown Their Work: actually, Eco's scholarly essays in which he mentions Protocols can be very useful in grasping the meaning of the events in the novel.
The Shrink: Freud, Charcot, Bourru, Burot and Du Maurier.
Smug Snake: Simonini isn't nearly as smooth or clever as he thinks he is. He is a master forger, but when it comes to espionage and murders, he usually finds himself at the mercy of the secret police to keep himself alive and out of prison.
Spiritual Successor: To Foucault's Pendulum; many of the themes of the latter book are foreshadowed in the later chapters of the former. However, while the protagonists of Foucault's Pendulum are basically good people driven by curiosity (Casaubon), mysticism (Diotallevi) and personal frustration (Belbo), who find out too late that they're in way too deep, Simonini is a detestable character who willingly participates in fraud For the Evulz.
Take That: Simonini enjoys delivering them to anyone and everyone he dislikes, such as the Germans. On a meta-level, the entire book is a Take That to those who spread lies and half-truths in the guise of conspiracy theories, and those who fall for them - and a warning that it is happening again, and can happen in future, unless we are prudent.
Unreliable Narrator: an elaborated case. The Narrator, who admits that he is trying to put together the relations of Simonini and Dalla Piccola (thus resembling a historian, but also a reader), is nonetheless conscious that the solution must involve arbitrariness.
Unwitting Pawn: almost everyone who meets Simonini, and quite often Simonini himself.
Supernatural Phone: The novel mentions the Arcula Mystica, which is a diabolical telephone of which there are seven in existence. It operates wirelessly and is even able to communicate directly with its owner if he's away from it. This is one of the many creative fabrications of Real Life hoaxter Léo Taxil, who features in this historical novel.