It is written in an unusual, non-linear style, taking the form of a gazetteer or tourist guide to a large number of islands in an imaginary world called the Dream Archipelago. Although each section (each island) is self-contained, the reader cannot help but notice that there is a certain amount of overlapping story between the islands and the people who live on them.
What we hear about these people is sometimes consistent, sometimes contradictory, always hauntingly familiar. Repetitions occur, denials are made, lovers are seduced and betrayed, revenge is exacted, artists create installation art, deserters from warring armies take refuge.
The book is the story of a writer’s life. At a young age he might or might not have become involved in the violent death of a famous theatrical performer (an accident, a murder, did someone else do it?). We see the incident from different points of view, all of them understandable and plausible, but none of them completely consistent with the others. The writer’s own life appears to be questioned: he himself dies during the course of the novel and there’s a huge funeral, but afterwards he is still around to report what happened. Even the woman who loved him has an existence that falls into doubt.