Conclave by Robert Harris : A review

Today, I finished Conclave by Robert Harris — a novel I waited ages to read. What took me so long was that I spent the last few weeks slowly reading Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End.

Barry’s book is one where you want to take your time and savour every sentence. Harris, on the other hand, delivers a page turner. Every time you come to the end of a chapter in Conclave, you want to rush on to the next.

Like the title suggests, Conclave is about the election of a pope. I heard about it when someone on a radio show said they read it cover to cover on a flight. They compared it to Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, a novel I enjoyed very much while on holiday a few years ago. It was 2013 and Pope Benedict had resigned. The cardinals had gathered in Rome to elect the new pope. I picked up a copy of Angels and Demons in the airport. If ever there was a right time to read about cardinals and the camerlengo, March 2013 was it. I read by the pool, dashing back to my room every so often, to check for news from Rome. The Conclave elected Pope Francis on the fifth ballot.

Personalities, Power and Politics

But, back to Harris and Conclave. Unlike the woman on the radio show, I can’t claim I finished it in one sitting but I did read it on three consecutive days and was sorry to reach the end. That’s always a good sign.

What I like about it are the personalities, the power and the politics. But even more than that, I enjoyed reading about the electoral process. I also like how Harris uses prayer and scripture to reveal the motivations and thought processes of the main characters.

Plot-wise, I don’t think that Conclave is perfect by any means but it is a page turner. If you enjoy Vatican intrigue, I think you’ll like it.

Note on editions: I bought the Kindle edition of Conclave by Robert Harris in January 2017.