Eco’s protagonist, called Yambo although his full name is Giamattista Bodoni (for the eighteenth century Italian printer who designed a popular style of type), is an antiquarian book dealer who suffers an accident, not fully detailed by the author, that leaves him able to remember everything he has ever read but unable to remember anything about his own existence during the past sixty years. Seeking to regain his lost identity, Yambo, at the urging of Paola, his psychologist wife, returns to his ancestral home, Solara, where he seeks clues to his identity through the thousands of papers, books, and photographs he finds there. The Eco novel is richly illustrated with much of this material.
Although he has a vivid recollection of the elements of his past, Yambo has lost the “self” of his past and is searching to regain it. Eco uses fog metaphorically throughout much of this novel to mirror Yambo’s confused condition, which reminds one of the Capgras Syndrome that Richard Powers employed in his novel The Echo Maker (2006), published shortly after Eco’s book.
As in his earlier works, Eco deals here with the time continuum. Paola says that people live in three time contexts—expectation, attention, and memory—and much of Eco’s novel illustrates the truth of her statement. This novel can be classified as a bildungsroman, or developmental, coming-of-age novel, despite the protagonist’s age.