I received a copy of Robert Harris’ latest work, Conclave, as a Christmas present from my sister. I included mention of Robert Harris in the post I created to mark my fifth anniversary as a blogger, the title of which was borrowed from the second volume of his trilogy about Marcus Tullius Cicero. I also mentioned the possibility of reviewing Imperatorm the third volume in the Cicero trilogy, in a couple of other posts but did not actually do so (it is a splendid finale to the trilogy btw).
A BOOK ABOUT CHOOSING A NEW POPE?
The whole of Conclave is devoted to telling the story of the election of a new pope. The scene is set with the announcement of the death of the old pope. To be elected a two-thirds majority, and it often takes several votes for a front runner to emerge. This being a novel, there are of course some extra twists. Four people in total are front runners at various stages of the process but do not win. Two of these people have their chances spoilt when details of past transgressions are revealed to the assembled cardinals, a third makes a speech which effectively rules him out and the fourth is hoping someone else gets elected. At the end a newly appointed cardinal who had gained one vote in the first ballot is elected at the eighth ballot (while I do not know of anyone in real life winning after getting only one vote in the first ballot, Cardinal Wojtila got very few votes in the first ballot of the second Conclave of 1978).
The winner then has to accept the office and choose a papal name. In this case he goes for Innocent, a papal name that has been used 13 times before but not in the last three centuries. There is of course a vast range of possible papal names – very few of those previously used would be unacceptable, while a choice of a previously unused name could also work. There are two papal names I do not see being claimed any time soon however: Pius XIII because of the character of Pius XII, and Peter II because of the sheer hubris involved in choosing that name (although Steve Berry in The Third Secret has someone choose the name Peter II, and yes that person does then come to a sticky end).
Although all the action takes place within the confines of the world’s smallest independent country, the book never flags or lacks interest. An excellent novel and one I heartily recommend.