This book takes an interesting idea, one that we may have seen before, in weighty non-fiction tomes, from serious academics, and adds a delightful slant. Does religion, specifically the Catholic faith, have a future? If not, what happens to those who depend on it for a livelihood, even their very identity?
Presuming the collapse of the Catholic church, at a time in the near future, we journey with the now unemployed Pope, as he seeks to re-establish belief in his doctrine. There are some nice touches to suggest the time period, including electronic newspapers, that can be rolled up, and the fact that the Vatican has become a casino! Other beliefs have come to the fore; Scientology and Mormon churches are flourishing, even place names have been changed, if they had any Catholic connotation.
Niccolò, as we know the former Pope, travels via Paris, to the laid-back beach resort of Venice, California. Here, he meets a disparate group of characters, some of whom help him with his quest to bring the church back to life. Some of the characterisations are flawless, and are reminiscent of those in Damon Runyon books. Always humourous, often plainly satirical, Miller creates a cast of human flotsam and jetsam, some likeable, others not so, for reasons that are well-stated.
We follow Niccolò's journey, through mountain retreats, crazy church services, and the zany bunch of beach peddlers that he becomes associated with. He discovers lost love, and is led to question his own faith and beliefs too. The association of Church and organised crime is alluded to, and we are told of the Pope's own rebellious youth, before he entered holy orders.
Most satisfyingly, Miller leaves no loose ends, and the circuitous story, with its seemingly mis-matched cast of players, draws to an immensely rewarding conclusion. More or less a one-off, I can really recommend this, as a light-hearted and fun read.