Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Literally the Best Reviews: Conclave

Conclave -- Robert Harris
Knopf Publishers
304 Pages

Occasionally I pick up a book that I simply cannot put down. This week’s book, Conclave by Robert Harris, was one of those books. I read the whole thing in one day. The first 275 pages were simply stunning. The ending left a little bit of an empty feeling as a reader, but overall, I just could not put down this book.

If any of you have watched the Netflix series, House of Cards, and enjoyed it, you’ll love this book. While the television show deals with all the shenanigans that take place behind closed doors in Washington, this books deals with that same wheeling and dealing that takes place behind the beautiful facade of the Vatican.

The book begins with the death of the Pope. He is never named, although it is a good supposition that it’s modern day and that the author is referring to Pope Francis. Immediately, cardinals from across the globe descend on Rome as they prepare to name a new leader of the Catholic Church.

As the conclave is sequestered for the task at hand, factions form between various members of the cardinals as the men tend to align themselves their favorites to ascend to the papacy. Backroom deals and blackmail are involved. Power is a strong drug, and it becomes less about the glory of the Church and more about the glory of the man.

Alliances form and crumble, and secrets are thrown into harsh light. Each new vote alters the political landscape of the conclave. Sudden support of a surprise candidate can lead to additional support in the next vote. What appears to be a sure thing halfway through the book becomes the longshot and then the no-shot candidate.

The book, while not up to the standards we saw with his bestseller, Fatherland, this book was fast-paced and well written. It kept me engaged throughout the length of the narrative. The ending seemed out of place with the rest of the book, however. To me, it felt like less than an original ending of the novel, and more of a tack on to be a piece of social commentary. It really doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. I’m not sure how that ending went across with Harris’ Catholic readers.

I will not tell you what the controversy is at the end of the book, but I will tell you that I was enthralled by the process of choosing a new Pope. I am not Catholic, but as an historian, I find the process intriguing. The process is mostly secret, but if half of what Robert Harris wrote is true, I would be enthralled completely.

Reading the reviews on Amazon, many people were upset with the ending. Because of this, they discounted the rest of the book. I respectfully disagree with that sentiment. The lead up and the suspense earlier in the book more than make up for the odd ending. And if you can get over that, this is a really good book to read.

Craig Bacon isn’t Catholic, but he’d like to meet Pope Francis, tour the Vatican, and maybe get some free time in the hidden Vatican Archives. Mostly that last one. Watch out Robert Langdon.