The Pope’s Rhinoceros

Lawrence Norfolk. Henry Holt, New York 1997.

A wildly funny, picaresque novel, based on one of history’s most bizqarre chapters: the attempt in the sixteenth century to produce a rhinoceros as a bribe for pope Leo X. An inventive historical novel that uses an absolutely outrageous bit of history to explore the obsessions and corruption of the Renaissance. That Norfolk’s novel is based on fact simply makes his point that much funnier — and more painful. He has a flair for rich characters, including in The Pope’s Rhinoceros an ex-mercenary soldier who can talk and manuver his way out of any calaminity, and a host of corrupt priests, cardinals, ambassadors, courtesans, and nobles. The author Lawrence Norfolk is a little-known British novelist whose first novel, Lempriere’s Dictionary, was published in 1992 to considerable critical acclaim. This is his second novel, and I will anxiously await his third.

Dr. George Johnson