When we think of magical realism, it's usually Gabriel Garcia Marquez that comes to mind. Conclave, by Roberto Pazzi, is another good example of the genre.
While the narrative is (somehow) centered on the figure of the humble and somehow mysterious Cardinal Malvezzi, he is not the book's main character. The true protagonist is the conclave itself, the process with which the Pope is chosen. Months go by and the Cardinals cannot agree on a unanimous choice. While the media loses interest in the twice a day released black smoke, bizarre things happen in the Vatican. A plague of rats, the attemptive escape of full Cardinals, and an embarrassing death, color the solemn reunion.
As these and other impossible events are at work, the author reveals the day-to-day life of the Vatican in its most important assembly, the real reasons for the religious inclination of key characters and their deepest motivations and desires. The political and social background increase the urgency in the decision-making that seems more unreachable at each page.
There are many humorous scenes in this book that drew more than one laugh of me, which are intertwined with deep reflections on religion, vocation and the human condition. Although these reflections are interesting and welcomed, they slow down the reading. Also, I would like to see more details about the external interference by political figures and the media, as well the internal intrigues, which are only outlined in this novel. It feels that the author wanted to bring these processes to light, but he did not dare going too far. I'm really sorry that he didn't, but it's understandable considering that he comes from the very country where the Vatican is set. That said, I highly recommend this unique book.