Conclave by Robert Harris

 

Conclave

I really didn’t expect to enjoy Conclave as much as I did, but then I’ve enjoyed all of his books that I’ve read, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Conclave is about an election of a Pope and I found it absolutely fascinating as the process of the election unfolded. Harris describes the procedure as Cardinal Lomeli, the Dean of the College of Cardinals leads the 118 Cardinals through the voting stages. I felt as though I was a fly on the wall watching it throughout as the Cardinals are locked inside the Sistine Chapel, isolated from contact with the outside world.

There are quite a lot of characters involved, which at first was a bit confusing but soon their personalities became clearer and I began to have my favourites and hope that one of them would be elected. It’s all seen from Lomeli’s point of view, so my thoughts were coloured by what he reveals about each of the main candidates. As they progress through the stages of the election, whittling down the candidates to just a few, lots of secrets, scandals and disagreements are revealed. It becomes increasingly tense with each stage and Lomeli, who had been wanting to retire before the last Pope had died, finds that he too is one of the contenders – most reluctantly:

All he had ever desired in this contest was to be neutral. Neutrality had been the leitmotif of his career. (page 98)

And he realised that, whoever was elected Pope would never be able to wander around the city at will, could never browse in a bookstore or sit outside a café, but would remain a prisoner here! (page 142)

It’s also dramatic as events in the outside world impact on the Conclave.  I was completely engrossed and hoping that my favourite would be elected. Harris has thoroughly researched the subject and seamlessly woven the facts into the novel. He visited the locations used during a Conclave that are permanently closed to the public and interviewed a number of prominent Catholics including a cardinal who had taken part in a Conclave, as well as consulting many reports and books.

There is one point that I found hard to accept (I think that to say any more would spoil the book), although it is something I’d thought might happen but I’d dismissed as rather fanciful. Nevertheless I still think this is a 5* book as I enjoyed it so much – one of the best books I’ve read this year.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3282 KB
  • Print Length: 287 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0091959179
  • Publisher: Cornerstone Digital; 01 edition (22 Sept. 2016)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My rating: 5*

First Chapter First Paragraph: An Artist of the Floating World

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

This week’s first paragraph is from An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, who has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

An Artist of the Floating World (Faber Fiction Classics) by [Ishiguro, Kazuo]

It begins:

If on a sunny day you climb the steep path leading from the little wooden bridge still referred to around here as ‘the Bridge of Hesitation’ you will not have  to walk far before the roof of my house becomes visible between the tops of two gingko trees. Even if it did not occupy such a commanding position on the hill, the house would still stand out from all others nearby, so that as you come up the path, you may find yourself wondering what sort of wealthy man owns it.

Blurb (from Amazon):

It is 1948. Japan is rebuilding her cities after the calamity of World War Two, her people putting defeat behind them and looking to the future. The celebrated artist, Masuji Ono, fills his days attending to his garden, his house repairs, his two grown daughters and his grandson; his evenings drinking with old associates in quiet lantern-lit bars. His should be a tranquil retirement. But as his memories continually return to the past – to a life and career deeply touched by the rise of Japanese militarism – a dark shadow begins to grow over his serenity.

There are some books that draw me in right from the beginning – and this is one of them. I’m hoping it lives up to its promise. I like the way Ishiguro paints a picture setting the scene in my mind as though I’m standing there looking at the view.

What do you think?  Would you continue reading?

 

A Darker Domain by Val McDermid

A Darker Domain (Karen Pirie, #2)

This is the second book in Val McDermid’s Kate Pirie series, a series that really should be read in order as A Darker Domain reveals one of the outcomes of the first book, The Distant Echo.

Description from Amazon:

Twenty-five years ago, the daughter of the richest man in Scotland and her baby son were kidnapped and held to ransom. But Catriona Grant ended up dead and little Adam’s fate has remained a mystery ever since. When a new clue is discovered in a deserted Tuscan villa – along with grisly evidence of a recent murder – cold case expert DI Karen Pirie is assigned to follow the trail.

She’s already working a case from the same year. During the Miners’ Strike of 1984, pit worker Mick Prentice vanished. He was presumed to have broken ranks and fled south with other ‘scabs’… but Karen finds that the reported events of that night don’t add up. Where did he really go? And is there a link to the Grant mystery?

The truth is stranger – and far darker – than fiction.

My thoughts:

The first thing that struck me when I began reading this book is that is not divided into chapters. Instead the text is divided by date and place, which initially is a bit confusing, moving between the two cases Karen is investigating. However, I soon got the hang of it.

I like the mix of fact and fiction in A Darker Domain, using the Miners’ Strike as the backdrop to the mystery of Mick Prentice’s disappearance. It is intricately plotted, with a large cast of characters and it’s deceptively easy to read – it’s easy to pass over significant facts that you realise later are of importance.

I like Karen Pirie, who had been a Detective Constable in the second part of the first book, The Distant Echo. Now she is a Detective Inspector in charge of the Cold Case Review Team in Fife. She describes herself as

a wee fat woman crammed into a Marks and Spencer suit, mid-brown hair needing a visit to he hairdresser, might be pretty if you could see the definition of her bones under the flesh. (page 6)

In the tradition of fictional detectives she’s an independent character, who takes little notice of her ineffectual boss, who she nicknames the ‘Macaroon’, undermining his authority. But she is hard-working and tenacious.

I like the contrasts Val McDermid portrays, such as the ‘darker domain‘ of the miners’ lives, the rich landowner wanting to find his grandson, and the beautiful setting in Tuscany where the members of a troupe of puppeteers, are squatting in a ruined villa.

I also like the mix of the two cases, which, as this is crime fiction, I fully expected would at some point interlink. The question is how do they interlink? Val McDermid has a neat way of leading you along the wrong lines with her twists and turns, culminating in the final paragraph. But the ending seemed rushed, tacked on, almost as an afterthought, which left me bemused and feeling rather flat. So, not as good as The Distant Echo but still an entertaining book.

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Thus edition (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007243316
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007243310
  • Source: a library book
  • My rating: 3.5* (rounded up to 4* on Goodreads)

Reading Challenges: my 4th book for R.I.P. XII

I hope to read the next book in the series, The Skeleton Road, before the end of the year.

My Friday Post: Conclave by Robert Harris

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week’s first paragraph is from Conclave by Robert Harris, a thriller set in the Vatican as the 118 cardinals meet in the Sistine Chapel to cast their votes for a new Pope.

Conclave

It begins:

Cardinal Lomeli left his apartment in the Palace of the Holy Office shortly before two in the morning and hurried through the darkened cloisters of the Vatican towards the bedroom of the Pope.

He was praying: O Lord, he still has so much to do, whereas all my useful work in Your service is completed. He is beloved, while I am forgotten. Spare him, Lord. Spare him. Take me instead.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56

Lomeli reckoned the Holy Father had had it in mind to remove almost half of the senior men he had appointed.

From the back cover:

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’ve thoroughly enjoyed other books by Robert Harris, so I’m expecting to like this one too.

 

After the Fire by Henning Mankell

Publication: Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Harvill Secker, 5 October 2017

Source: review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 5*

Description:

Fredrik Welin is a seventy-year-old retired doctor. Years ago he retreated to the Swedish archipelago, where he lives alone on an island. He swims in the sea every day, cutting a hole in the ice if necessary. He lives a quiet life. Until he wakes up one night to find his house on fire.

Fredrik escapes just in time, wearing two left-footed wellies, as neighbouring islanders arrive to help douse the flames. All that remains in the morning is a stinking ruin and evidence of arson. The house that has been in his family for generations and all his worldly belongings are gone. He cannot think who would do such a thing, or why. Without a suspect, the police begin to think he started the fire himself.

Tackling love, loss and loneliness, After the Fire is Henning Mankell’s compelling last novel.

My thoughts:

After the Fire by Henning Mankell, translated by Marlaine Delargy, is not standard crime fiction and although there are crimes committed they are not the main focus of the book.  Living alone on an isolated island in the Swedish archipelago, Fredrik, a retired doctor, is devastated by the fire which destroyed the house he had inherited from his grandparents. He has nothing left apart from a boathouse, where he had set up an improvised surgery, a caravan (belonging to his daughter, Louise), and a boat. Suspected by the police of starting the fire, he tries to discover the culprit.

But the main emphasis of the book is on his reflections on life, death, ageing, and loneliness.  I found it absolutely fascinating as Fredrik looks back over his life.  His relationship with his daughter, Louise, who he hadn’t known about until she was an adult, is difficult – he knows almost nothing about her. However this changes when she comes to the island to decide what to do next and he gets more involved in her life.

Told in the first person by Fredrik it goes into detail about his fears of dying and the difficulties of understanding other people and both beginning and maintaining relationships. He has no real friends and only knows a handful of people living on the islands.  There is Jansson, a hypochondriac, the former postman, a snooper who read all the postcards he delivered, Oslovski, who he describes as a strange woman his contact with her is only to the extent of checking her blood pressure from time to time and parking his car outside her house on the mainland. Then there is Lisa, a journalist who writes for the local paper, a new acquaintance who interviews him about the fire and Nordin who owns the chandlery.

It’s beautifully written and I was entranced. I found it all very real, the people, the places and the mystery. It is both a character study  and a meditation on the complexities of life and death. Once I began reading I just didn’t want it to end.

A – Z of TBRs: G, H and I

I have been neglecting my TBRs this year and have been reading mainly new books and library books.So here is the third instalment of my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I take a fresh look at some of my TBRs to inspire me to read more of them by the end of the year. These TBRs are all physical books – I’ve not included e-books.

I’m enjoying searching my shelves – finding books I’d forgotten were there (the disadvantage of shelving books behind others).

a-z tbrs ghi P1020304

 

G is for The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendella book I’ve had for just over a year. When a new house is being built a long buried secret is uncovered – a tin box is found in an earthen tunnel. It contained two skeletal hands, one male and one female.

Their garden was not beautiful. It had no flowering trees, no roses, no perfumed herbs. Tunnels, they called it at first. The word ‘qanat’, an impossible word, was found by Daphne Jones and adopted by the rest of them. It meant, apparently, a subterranean passage for carrying water in some oriental language. They liked it because it started with a q without a u. Their scholteachers had taught them that no word could ever start with a q unless it was followed by u, so Daphne’s idea appealed to them and the tunnels became qanats. In time to come the qanats became their secret garden. (pages 14 -15)

HHamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes (on my TBR shelves since May 2015). This is a green Vintage Penguin, first published in 1937, and in this edition in 1961, about a murder planned to take place in the middle of a private performance of Hamlet.

It had begun as a family frolic. And now, although it would not be publicly reported, the dramatic critics were coming down as if to an important festival. Professors were coming to shake learned respectable bald heads over a fellow-scholar’s conception of an Elizabethan stage. Aged royalty  was coming to be politely bewildered. Most alarming of all, ‘everybody’ was coming – for the purpose no doubt, of being where ‘everybody’ was. And even if it was a select and serious everybody – a known set before whom a Lord Chancellor might mime without misgiving – it was still a crowd, and its actions were unpredictable. (page 28)

IThe Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, a book I’ve had for just over 10 years! It won the Man Booker Prize in 2006. This is set in India, in a dilapidated mansion high in the Himalayas, the home of three people each dreaming of another time – a retired judge, Sai, his granddaughter and a cook.

In Kalimpong, high in the northeastern Himalayas where they lived – the retired judge and his cook, Sai and Mutt – there was a report of new dissatisfaction in the hills, gathering insurgency, men and guns. It was the Indian Nepalese this time, fed up with being treated like the minority in a place where they were the majority. They wanted their own country, or at least their own state, in which to manage their own affairs. Here, where India blurred into Bhutan and Sikkim, and the army did pull-ups and push-ups, maintaining the tanks with khaki paint in case the Chinese grew hungry for more territory than Tibet, it had always been a messy map. The papers sounded resigned. A great amount of warring, betraying, bartering had occurred; between Nepal, England, Tibet, India, Sikkim, Bhutan; Darjeeling stolen from here, Kalimpong plucked from there – despite, ah, despite the mist charging down like a dragon, dissolving, undoing, making ridiculous the drawing of border. (page 9)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? 

One reason I haven’t read these books yet is that they’re all in such a small font!

The Betrayals by Fiona Neill

Publication date: August 217, Penguin – Michael Joseph

Source: Review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 4*

Blurb (Amazon)

None of them would forget that week on the wild Norfolk coast.

Best friends Rosie and Lisa’s families had always been inseparable.

But that summer, Lisa had an affair with Rosie’s husband Nick.

And now, after years of silence, she sends Rosie a letter begging for help. A letter which exposes dark secrets.

Daughter Daisy’s fragile hold on reality begins to unravel.

Teenage son Max blames himself for everything that happened that long hot summer.

And Nick must confront his own version of events.

There are four sides to this story. Who will you believe?

My thoughts:

An excellent book about families, relationships, and the consequences of an affair! It looks at what happens when an affair becomes known, a marriage is over and the families’ friendship is destroyed.

It grabbed my attention right from the start with Daisy’s opening words:

Three is a good and safe number. I close my eyes and whisper the words three times so no one can hear. The sound like a sweet sigh. If Mum notices she might worry and the days of worry are over. I say this three times too, just to make triple sure, remembering how the words have to be spoken on the out breath.

Whatever Daisy says her days of worry are not over and her OCD goes into overdrive when she opens Lisa’s letter to Rosie. The novel is narrated in the present tense, often a bit of a stumbling block for me, but not so in this book, told from four different viewpoints – those of Daisy, her mother Rosie, father Nick and brother Max. Each one casts a different light on events and shows how easy it can be to interpret what happens in differing and often mistaken ways.

As I read the book I often couldn’t decide whose version to believe, especially when they were so contradictory. It explores the reliability of memory, the nature of mental illness and the devastation of friendships and family relationships through deceit and betrayal. What stood out for me was the portrayal of what it’s like to struggle with OCD and cancer. The book as a whole is an in-depth study of character and the terrible effects of suppressed memories and secrets. I loved it.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a review copy.