Thursday, June 23, 2005


I just finished reading a strange but enjoyable novel, Conclave by Roberto Pazzi, translated by Oonagh Stransky. It's about the uncanny events that take place in the Vatican during a Papal conclave that lasts for several months. It's easier to say what sort of book it isn't than what it is. It might be described as a fantasy, but not one that's anything like what that word is likely to conjure up for American readers. Most American or British fantasy harks back to pre-Christian myths or beliefs, sometimes in transformed form, but there's none of that here; the book remains firmly within the belief system of Catholicism itself. It has no resemblance to Tolkien, Gaiman, or even Dunsany: there are no imaginary worlds, elves, or dragons. If there's magic, it's not part of a imaginary system invented by the author.

Perhaps one could say that whereas most Anglo-American fantasists respond to the exhaustion of traditional Christian belief by creating alternative worlds in which traditional beliefs, Christian or otherwise, still hold true (even when they themselves are traditional Christians), Pazzi makes this exhaustion his overt subject. Pazzi's approach to this subject is one of wry humor, similar to Calvino's. But the closest thing I can compare Conclave to overall, that I know of, is Elinor Wylie's The Venetian Glass Nephew (which I also recommend).

The book is published by Steerforth Press.

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