Thursday, 1 February 2018

Conclave by Robert Harris

Book Review

Conclave by Robert Harris - Reading, Writing, Booking

"Any man who is truly worthy must consider himself unworthy."

Conclave was written by Robert Harris and published by Arrow.

Apologies for the radio silence, but I came down with what felt like the Black Death but what the doctor said was a viral infection. It knocked me out for a couple of weeks and I'm only now feeling human.

I'm back with a review of Conclave by Robert  Harris. I wasn't going to actually review this book, just read it for pleasure, but it was so good that I feel I've got to share it. Even though I'm actually quite late to the party as it was published a couple of years ago.

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.

I haven't read any Robert Harris before but Conclave has been on my tbr list for a while, partly because it's got such good reviews but also because I loved the concept, looking inside the secret and ancient system of electing a new pope. Also, I listened to Robert Harris talking to Richard E, Grant about Conclave on the Penguin Podcast about a year ago and really enjoyed it. The Penguin Podcast is good by the way, authors are interviewed and they bring along five objects that helped them write their books. Although, I much preferred it when Ricard E. Grant was presenting it last year. They frequently change the interviewers and it's recently been David Baddiel who I'm not a massive fan of.

Anyway, onto the book. This actually broke a really bleh reading period for me. I read a lot of thrillers that haven't delivered many thrills, but I couldn't put Conclave down. It's odd because it's really hard to tear your self away from it, but it's quite slow and subtle, gradually building tension, yet giving enough intrigue to keep you reading.

Harris was allowed into places that normally no other people except cardinals can go, so he has got a really good basis and knowledge of how the Conclave works.

Harris generally writes historical fiction, and Conclave has the feel of a historical novel, yet it is set in the present (actually the future, I think it's set in 2018). Because it focuses on such an old tradition, and looks at the history of the church, it appeals to history lovers, yet it is definitely a novel of its time. The book at once recognises and celebrates ancient and timeless traditions yet anchors it in the current world and cultural situations.

I'm not religious, but I couldn't help feeling an awe at the proceedings and the setting. Yet Harris is also brilliant at making the cardinals human. They are all very old men and it's something I think the world often forgets.

The main character of Lomeli is brilliantly drawn; his worry about being a "manager" instead of Cardinal material, his battle with faith and also his more everyday elements, such as his humour and kindness.

I would have given Conclave 5 stars, but I deducted half just because, though I thoroughly enjoyed it, there were a few plot points that I found a little hard to believe in, even though I wanted to. I think this is the sort of Conclave that we want to happen, and Lomeli is the man that we want at the head of it, but the idealism in some parts is a little optimistic. Also the ending, though I thought it was brilliant and didn't see it coming, well, in a perfect world maybe.

This is still one of the best books I've read recently. Robert Harris is a masterful writer who manages to write intelligently without being patronising, and entertaining without being glib.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (rounded down to 4 stars for Goodreads etc)

Conclave by Robert Harris - Reading, Writing, Booking

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