Fabrizio Garrone is an impoverished but aristocratic translator who has been living a life of quiet desperation in Milan. He feels underappreciated and tormented by a persistent sense of having been cheated by life. But when he reads about a lost Viennese novel—The House on Moon Lake—in the journals of a late esteemed literary critic, he dreams that this project will put him on the cultural and literary map, and finally bring him the accolades that have eluded him.
Fabrizio journeys to Vienna, tracks down the book, and translates it, and in so doing embarks on a nightmarish search for the truth behind the events depicted in it, as well as for clues about the tragic life of its forgotten author. When asked to write a short biography of the novelist, Fabrizio must invent details missing from the last three years of his subject’s life. The resulting biography is a publishing phenomenon. But the repercussions for Fabrizio are profound: he becomes the willing victim of a person he had thought to be fictional.