What’s it all about?:
SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
‘Gripping’ Sunday Times
The Pope is dead.
Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election.
They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals.
Over the next seventy-two hours one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.
What did I think?:
I approached this new novel by Robert Harris with slight trepidation I have to admit, having not had the greatest experience with one of his previous novels, An Officer And A Spy, which was also a Richard and Judy Book Club pick here in the UK a little while ago. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the writing, I did think it was very cleverly done and I ended up giving it a three star rating but unfortunately it didn’t blow me away. So when I saw the most recent Richard and Judy Summer Book Club list and saw another Robert Harris novel on there, I did feel a little bit wary and wasn’t really looking forward to it. Well. How wrong was I?! I was really shocked and delighted to discover that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and it definitely makes me more eager to read some more of the author’s work, something I was not considering before this. It’s also why I always advocate giving an author a second chance, just because one book doesn’t particularly work for you doesn’t mean that another won’t be exactly the opposite.
I’m starting to ramble and digress slightly so let’s get back to what Conclave is all about. Conclave follows our main character, Cardinal Lomeli whom, as Dean over all the other Cardinals is tasked with leading proceedings when a current Pope passes away in order to choose another one. The whole procedure is shrouded in secrecy with the hundred-odd Cardinals being sequestered away, completely cut off from the outside world and forbidden to discuss the process in any huge detail with each other as they cast their votes, time and time again until a majority is announced that elects a new Pope.
Now you might think that this all sounds quite dull but believe me it’s not. Robert Harris manages to make the election process of a new Pope thrilling, mysterious and completely page turning as we learn about the main contenders for the big job as the holiest man on Earth and also rocks the boat slightly when Cardinal Lomeli discovers some inside and very damaging information about a couple of the contenders that threatens their journey to becoming the Holy Father. Alongside this is the arrival of a new Cardinal that is completely unprecedented by the others, and is a person the previous Pope chose to elect in complete secrecy for reasons unknown to apparently everyone. This is a story about religion, the loss of faith, the changes in Catholicism over the years, men’s pride, extreme ambition, what makes a good/bad man and the fight between duty and desire.
I was actually raised Catholic (although lapsed now!) and went through the whole process – church every Sunday, First Communion, Confirmation etc and although I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, I didn’t ever believe that reading a story about the election of the Pope could be so compelling. As I mentioned previously, I was completely taken aback by how much I enjoyed this novel and how surprised I was, especially in the directions the author chose to take the narrative. It’s a fascinating insight into Catholicism and faith but also with an amazingly human edge with real, flawed characters that you can really understand and believe in. You don’t have to be a believer to enjoy this novel at all but if you have any interest in how the process might work and enjoy a damn good mystery, this book is definitely for you. It takes twists and turns that you might never have imagined and I thoroughly enjoyed every word of it.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):