A lot of mythologising surrounds this novel; when it was first published, the critics snarled and disdained it, and in large part didn't understand it, which is forgiveable, because it is a huge, complex monster of a book. The plot (which is far from being the central point of the book) follows the richly colourful and sympathetic inner life of an ancient, eccentric author against the backdrop of twentieth-century history: this is merely a stage against which to set his relationship with an Italian priest of great character and complexity, destined to become Pope. This relationship is in itself a mere frame for an analysis of the nature of good and evil, and faith and free will, in an astonishingly subtle and labyrinthine way. The whole thrust of the book is to propose an idea, only revealed near the end, which is so philosophically shocking that the reader has to have some way of rejecting it, should they so wish. Suddenly the rest of the book is thrown into crystal relief - the vast complexity of the narrative is a web of deliberate errors of fact, logic and conclusion to allow this escape: the nature of human memory and thought itself is thrown into question. Beyond that, I leave you to argue it out amongst yourselves. This is a truly great book by one of Britain's most important C20 writers.