Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Arrow (22nd September 2016)
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.
Links To Buy:
Warning - spoilers up ahead.
My obsession with all things Vatican/Catholicism/The Pope - goes way, WAAAY back - to the first time I read (and fell in love) with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Since then, I’ve watched videos, documentaries, movies, read books, countless articles and features, on everything above. The history, the culture, the sheer power of belief behind it all (and not gna lie, the conspiracy whispers and the mystery) all adds to the allure of it. When late last year I came across an advert in the newspaper for some book called Conclave - I was immediately drawn to it because 1. it was there in my face, so you know.. but 2. Conclave is the ceremony whereby they select a new Pope. OBVIOUSLY my mind was like omg what’s this where is this I HAVE TO HAVE IT - but it wasn’t going to be out for another few weeks. Like most things.. it drifted to the far reaches of my mind.. until *sinister music* LOL jk, until I came across it at work for being nominated for an award. My memory awoke, and out I went to grab myself a copy. I devoured this book every moment I got, at lunch, on the train home, in between working out *dedication, I know*.
Even if you’re not obsessed the way I am with this topic, you will find this book hard to put down. There’s a lot of depth and information in this story about the Pope election, it’s methods, the ideas behind it - which I found fascinating given my interests, but for a general reader, it wasn’t an overload and didn’t make the book top heavy with too much history. It was just the right amount, interweaved with the actual plot of the story, which follows our narrator, cardinal Lomeli as he tries to organise the next conclave. I really liked Lomeli’s character as he felt sincere, genuine, and very much human. His strengths as a narrator lie in the way the author allowed him to have doubts, about his faith, about the people surrounding him and what this could mean for the future of the religion he seems to feel detached from. How does someone, who has found themselves out of touch with their faith, organise one of the worlds biggest gatherings to elect one of the most iconic spiritual figures?
In a way, it was post-finishing this book, that I felt the narrator was somewhat unreliable and I kinda liked that - because all along we see that he doesn’t reallllly want to be the next Pope, not in the slightest. It is usually those who don’t seek to covet power, who are most suited for it, are they not? But it dawned one me after, that others have observed and mentioned to him, as each contender seems to, by his hand, unwilling or not, be removed from the path - leaving it more and more open it conveniently seems, for him to become Pope. Was this really shrewdness from our narrator, hidden to us, or really did he not want it and it just happened (to at least look like) it will fall to him? We will never really know, and I quite like that. Since this is a spoileryy review, I realised I can admit that in the end, though it does look like he is about to snatch the seat - in fact, he doesn’t. Who does I hear you ask? That, you will have to find out for yourself after reading it, because some plot twists really are too good to reveal.
Though, the person it does end up being, well that was a SHOCKER AND A HALF, I’LL SAY. And again, you’ll see why when you reach that part. But the implications of it - phew, can you imagine? I seriously was blindsided by this twist, honestly did not see that coming. NOPE. But I can see where readers will be on the fence about it - it’s quite a large pill to swallow, but from my end at least, I will admit I liked the twist and what it could mean. All this time, I had a feeling there was a sure buildup to something more sinister for some reason, something quite huge - but instead the plot twist we got punched me in the gut - and I liked it. It was however, quite rushed and there should have been more, at least a chapter in itself, to look at this new development. But then again, some of the beauty lies in the way the author has literally left it to us readers to continue the story in our head. This person has become the Pope - what happens next? Well it’s all up to you.
The characters, though it took some getting used to to remember which cardinal was which (for which I did think the author should have included an index, which would have worked greatly) but all in all, I liked the very human flaws we see from each candidate who is eventually removed. Again, slight spoilers ahead! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. TURN BACK NOW. Or not, you know.
Back to my point - cardinal Adeyemi was out of the running for his desires and lust. The Canadian Tremblay (who I just couldn’t stop picturing as the Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau ironically LOL) who was all about power and ego. These men, really are men - much like the rest of us, with very human desires and pitfalls - no matter how hard they try to conceal them. Much of it is human nature hidden amongst the desire for a level of divinity, to become one of the greatest spiritual figures of the world. As the narrator very rightfully says in his speech, faith is about doubt and sins - and repentance, not about perfection. These men, are not perfection.
“Our faith is a living thing precisely because it walks hand in hand with doubt. If there was only certainty, and if there was no doubt, there would be no mystery, and therefore no need for faith.”
Their faith suffers human errs, as does any religion - but it’s your path back to faith and your repentance and belief in forgiveness, forging forward with intentions of being better than the sum of your sins. As a Muslim, a lot of my religion beautifully coincides with Christianity, I see the similarities about character, about doubt, about strength in acceptance and much much more - the religions draw many parallels and for that reason I loved reading about the different religious figures from the Bible in the book and what they teach to those following the religion. All of this, wrapped and written in a book that was well paced, with a great number of twists and revelations to balance out the rituals and traditions of the conclave election itself. The book was hugely engaging and very honest and raw in how it described that some parts of the conclave are in fact, boring. There was politics in play, which is unsurprising as isn’t it everywhere really? All in all, a great read that packed a punch and I hugely enjoyed.