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The Pope's Rhinoceros: A Novel [Hardcover]

Lawrence Norfolk
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sep 1996
The highly acclaimed author of Lempriere's Dictionary, which was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of 1992, returns with a vivid, antic, and picaresque fictional tapestry--reminiscent of The Name of ther Rose--which spins around one of history's most bizarre chapters: the 16th-century attempt to procure a rhinoceros for the amusement of Pope Leo X.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 574 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony Books; First American Edition First Printing edition (Sep 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 051759532X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517595329
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 16.5 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,071,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Bawdy baroque-punk prose of marvellous fluency, overlaid with a gloss of heavy-weight erudition... an astonishing achievement, little short of a masterpiece" (William Dalrymple Independent on Sunday)

"A gargantuan, dazzling fable by Britain's brightest young writer" (Steven Poole Guardian)

"A story of adventure enthralling in its scope and inventiveness, by turns comic and horrific, zestful and elegaic, involving a reclusive order of monks whose church is slowly sliding into the sea; Renaissance Rome with its sexual license and political rivalries; war and atrocity in the Central Italian States; and a remote tribe in the West African rain forest. Running through this variegated fable is the search for the rhinoceros. The exuberance, the sheer proliferation of incident and scene, are disciplined and controlled by unerring narrative pace and cunning" (Barry Unsworth Daily Telegraph)

"A truly fabulous piece of new British fiction" (James Saynor Observer) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

'Spell-binding entertainment, richly imagined, painstakingly researched, superbly paced and utterly gripping' - Michael Dibdin, Independent on Sunday --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Yes, the plot is absurd, and yes it's very heavy on the detail. But for me, Norfolk manages to keep up the standard of both the descrition and the narration throughout, and it's an extremely entertaining read. The fact that it's even denser than its number of pages would suggest - Norfolk writes in quite an erudite manner that means it's a slower read than it's entertainment value would usually result in - simply enhances the longevity of what for me was an extremely entertaining and enjoyable read. However, its length and density probably makes for a more difficult read than your average "entertainment".

A brilliantly enjoyable read, although not for the commitment-shy reader. Make time for this book and it will reward you in spades.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too clever by one and a half 30 July 2000
By A Customer
This the most annoying book I have ever read - yes I did finish it, all 753 pages - eventually. I took it on holiday, impressed by the formidable collection of rave reviews on the back. But Norfolk is at war with his reader. He can't bear to allow him or her the luxury of being able to follow his mystifying series of interrelated plots in anything resembling a sequence. Most episodes are preceded by several pages of densely written descriptive text intended, presumably to set the scene, but which in fact merely serve to irritate by their self-congratulatory and clearly arduously researched obscurity. (The book could easily have been 300 pages shorter.) Part of the story is then related - usually well told and gripping. But just as you think you may be starting to see where he is leading, he stops dead in his tracks and whisks you off somewhere else with a different cast, all with bizarre names which you have to try and get to know before the same process is repeated throughout the book. He's a clever fellow and writes well, but you end up feeling as if you've spend a week wrestling with the Times crossword rather than a novel and I hate crosswords.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
"Welcome to Rome, Salvestro". This novel sprawls. This novel bewilders. This novel has monks, pagans, rats, Popes, adventurers, slave traders,and mercenaries, all rushing inexorably towards one hell of a bizarre resolution. Against a backdrop of Renaissance politics, wars between Italian city-states, and hellish voyages to the East Indies, our plucky pagan hero Salvestro and his halfwit companion Bernardo, travel the length of sixteenth century Europe, getting ever more drawn into a Papal conspiracy that is beyond their comprehension. It cannot be summarised tidily, and it cannot be read without having you dashing out to the library to look up what actually did happen at the sack of Prato, or whether or not the pagan Wends did indeed exist on a small, obscure island in the Baltic off the northern coast of Germany. Whatever Lawrence Norfolk's book is about it is a triumph. Most historical novels simplify. This one doe not hide the complexities. Though not as much fun as its predecessor, the equally bizarre Lempriere's Dictionary, it is as compulsive a read. As a result, a visit to Rome without this novel would be about as senseless as a visit to Kefalonia without a copy of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A strange mixture 16 Jun 2013
I nearly gave up at the first chapter, but I kept going and thought it was brilliant, then it became more and more bizarre so that by the end I couldn't make out what was happening.

The sequence in Africa was like something out of H Rider Haggard (I was a great fan of his books when I was young), yet various characters' motives were never explained. Why the long description of lost wax bronze casting? Why were animals and some characters cast adrift on rafts? Perhaps the author knew but he didn't tell his readers, or was I not clever enough to follow him?

Sometimes it was very funny, sometimes grim.

His decriptions of what happened at Prato, a real historical massacre, were very restrained but still horrifying.

Unfortunately the final scenes in Rome descended in farce, making me wonder if persevering for 600 pages had really been worth it!

For me the final verdict of a book is, would I look out for another book by this author? And in the case of Lawrence Norfolk I'm not sure; maybe, but not for a long while yet.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well Worth the Effort 28 Sep 2004
And it was an effort. I took this book out of Andover library because it was the thickest thing in there (I had a lot of time on my hands). Once I'd read it, I took it back and went out and bought my own copy, just gor the privilege of owning it. I'm currently reading it again, and will continue to reread it for as long as I draw breath and my eyes will let me. If you like a big - really big - story, this is for you.
If not, give it to your least favourite aunt for Christmas.
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