It's a beautiful book, not just in translation but in that its an illustrated novel, illustrated from the comics, woodcuts and images of western civilisation available around before the War and during the 50's.
It's the interior experience of a man that awakes with no personal memory, no personal history but a complete and encyclopedic knowledge of all the books that have ever passed through his hands, which is pretty much all of Western culture since he's a dealer in rare books.
In his character Yambo's attempt to rediscover a personal history by following the trail of books and comics stored in an abandoned family residence Eco takes us through the popular culture of pre-war Italy how it lived with Fascism and even in the midst of the propaganda of war a curl of the truth of events can be disclosed.
In this process Yambo also learns that he was continually in pursuit of his first and unrequited love, Lila. All the women in his life, and he was not unsuccessful with women remind him of some quality of this unknown girl. Lila disappeared from his life and shortly afterwards died without him knowing and so his search was always going to be fruitless.
At almost the culmination of this recapitulation of his own unknown life he discovers a First Folio Shakespeare in some trunk and has a final stroke. In the midst of this stroke he recovers his personal memory and recapitulates the emotional history of his life. The book ends in darkness, whether a darkeness of sleep prior to waking out of a coma or a darkness of death we do not know. But the Broadway Melody feel of the final part of the book where all of the comic characters make a final and interconnected bow does imply a termination.
The use of the name Lila for his Beatrice, his unrequited and unmet love interested me, it reminded me of Lila by Robert Pirsig where he approaches Quality from degradation and the collision of pleasure and guilt. But Lila in that context was from the Hindu Lila, the play of shadows in the cave of Mara.
So, I'm left toying with the idea that that is what Eco meant that we inhabit our own solipsistic Universe in the end as Yambo does, not knowing what is real and what manufactured by him or that the novel itself is just playing with the ideas of idea.
The alternative is that Lila is Night, which is its Arabic/Phoenician meaning, and Delilah a version of it. Though Yambo is no Samson, even if he is eyeless in Gaza at the end.
Read it and see for yourself. It has lots of pretty pictures if nothing else, and there is a lot else.
The original posting in the new journal is here