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The Pope's Rhinoceros

3.50  ·  Rating Details  ·  361 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
Norfolk's rollicking, picaresque novel is based on one of history's most bizarre chapters: the attempt in the sixteenth century to procure a rhinoceros as a bribe for Pope Leo X. With an epic cast of characters, The Pope's Rhinoceros is both a fabulous adventure tale and a portrait of an age rushing headlong into crisis.
Paperback, 592 pages
Published October 15th 1997 by Holt Paperbacks (first published September 9th 1996)
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Vit Babenco
Feb 16, 2016 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lawrence Norfolk is footloose and fancy free – he easily combines magic realism with postmodern posturing and the result is exotic and flowery and extravagant. History is literally turned into the grotesque gory buffoonery, which it really was always anyway – it just needed a one to see it in a proper light.
“He would be counting the treasure they would raise. Estimating weights and loads, like their rehearsals in the pond. Organizing matters properly. That was still possible. But it was growing
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Antonio Nunez
Jul 12, 2013 Antonio Nunez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Pope's Rhinoceros" has been called Lawrence Norfolk's second novel. I don't believe its value comes mainly from its novel-hood. Rather, it has some amazing, even mind-blowing scenes tied together by recurring characters, some of which are intriguing or amusing, some less so.
The storyline is not easy to summarize (the book is like a very rich cake that cannot hold it shape). The time is the high Renaissance (early XVI century). Niklot, our hero, an aboriginal native of the island of Usedom,
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Ed
Aug 30, 2007 Ed rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone who isn't afraid of taking their time with a book
It is not a quick read. You have to really dig in and grit your teeth. "Dense" and "erudite" are spot-on, being full of historical and quotable goodies. He's definitely thorough, he loves his history and it shows.

He's also not afraid of viscera, doling it out in heaps. Norfolk's Renaissance is rank, ripe, fluid, unforgiving and peopled that's for damn sure. Yeah, it's gross by 21rst-century sanitary standards, plodding and belaboring the natural human fluids and excretions, but fine--it brings
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Tijana
Aug 17, 2015 Tijana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Svaka strana, ma svaka rečenica u knjizi je odlično napisana, samo ih ima previše. Previše u smislu da ovde ima građe za tri *cela* i ne obavezno povezana romana, plus okrajci. Pisca treba neka humana duša da upozna sa konceptima protagoniste, epizodiste i statiste, a posebno sa razlikama među njima.
Ako to izuzmemo: roman je odličan, Norfok je rešio da pokaže kako ume da vlada celim rasponom klavijature od burleske preko dvorskih intriga do užasa rata i magijskog realizma, i stvarno nam je pokaz
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Pequete
Mar 21, 2015 Pequete rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookcrossing
Ui, como me custou terminar este livro! Se houve partes do livro que gostei de ler, outras eram realmente intragáveis e esta falta de homogeneidade foi uma coisa que me surpreendeu e desapontou, depois de um início bastante auspicioso. Fiquei com a ideia que o autor é muito bom a fazer descrições de paisagens e ambientes, mas confuso, para não dizer caótico, na delineação do enredo geral. Várias vezes dei comigo a pensar "mas o que é que isto tudo tem a ver com a porcaria do rinoceronte?". Pior ...more
Anastasia
Jan 04, 2015 Anastasia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All of us dream and have nightmares. Sometimes a nightmare so luring, it might just be the salvation from the reality.

“And Vineta is still there,” he murmured, “with all its temples and their treasure. …”
And its people, too, his mother had said. Our people. When the water was clear, she told him, you might see them walking in the watery streets. Svantovit was down there with them. He could not save them, but neither could he desert them.


Cold waters of the North, scorching Italian sun, changing
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Sandra
OK, as readers go, I have a pretty high tolerance for tedious description, complicated plots and excessive verbiage. For instance, I plodded through all three books in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle--a really ponderous read--and actually enjoyed them. Need I say more? Even so, I probably would not have gotten more than 50 pages into this before giving up if it had not been that my best friend sort of foisted this off on me, suggesting that perhaps I had the intellect to endure it whereas she di ...more
verbava
п'ять зірочок, хоч я не зовсім певна, чи до кінця зрозуміла, що тут відбулося (втім, і за це теж – текст такий розкішний і багатий, що з нього довго можна виловлювати все нові деталі й події).
"носоріг для папи" – то книжка для вдумливого, але безупинного читання, стільки там важливих дрібничок, підказок, натяків. є купа речей, яких норфолк не вербалізує, а ще більше тих, які відштовхуються від основ, набудованих двісті сторінок тому. усе воно – імена, місця, події, наміри і вчинки – зрештою скла
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Tara
Sep 22, 2011 Tara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I struggled with this book, but forced myself to finish it, as it was the first book I bought for my Kindle. Norfolk's narrative is undeniably exciting, challenging and polychromatic. He delights in exploring the perspectives of non-human characters and in rich vocabulary. Having said that, Rhino is deeply unfriendly to the reader. I found it very difficult to keep up with what was going on, partly because of the swirling, circling nature of the narrative, but also because I cared very little ab ...more
Hugh
Aug 19, 2015 Hugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit
A unique book that defies categorisation, this is a huge, surreal, complex, all-encompassing sixteenth century picaresque shaggy dog (or should I say rhinoceros) story full of humour, complex plot twists, period detail and arcane vocabulary, ranging from the Baltic coastal island of Usedom via Rome to West Africa and back, taking in large chunks of history, geography, geology, papal politics and many other subjects.

Not an easy read, particularly the opening which spends several pages explaining
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Elisabeth
Apr 21, 2014 Elisabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
It took me forever to get through this book. Not because it is awful, but because the author's style is very dense. What I can describe using three or four words, he uses fifteen.
Pope Leo X owns an elephant, and wants a rarer beast, a rhinoceros. No one knows what it looks like, but the Spanish and the Portuguese are vying with each other to deliver one and gain the favor of this Pope. The life story of one man, Salvestro, is woven in and around the finding of this beast. Herring and especial
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Marvin
Aug 11, 2009 Marvin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I quickly decided I didn't want to plow through its 600 densely printed and--more important--densely written pages.
Alejandrina
Jan 29, 2016 Alejandrina rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Gave up on page 5. "This strange and gentle sea, reed-fringed and resting on a granite cradle still rocking in the aftermath of ice, dotted with islands and bounded with stony northern coasts, fed by melted snow and rainwater, almost enclosed behind the jut of the peninsula, yet appears almost lacustrine, an outbreak of water arrested at the edge of the ocean, frozen in the moment of joining".

Prose is SO tight, it would take a monumental effort to get through the 574 pages. Others may enjoy the
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Mkfs
Sep 27, 2015 Mkfs rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I dunno ... "A" for effort, I guess?

The writing obviously took a lot of work, and there is some consummate craftsmanship going on here. Sure, the vocabulary seems too often to reach for the more obscure word (or the more obscure meaning of a word, such as using factor to refer to an agent) when there is a perfectly serviceable common word, but that is more irritating than blameworthy.

The real problem is that the novel just doesn't really work. The jokes in the carnivalesque Rome chapters fall f
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Julie
Feb 20, 2014 Julie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
This book is so long, I am going to jot some thoughts as I go. I will do a review at the end.
First thought: a story that begins with the glacial retreat and formation of a sea (5 pages worth) that is the backdrop for the first book is an ominous beginning to a hefty tome.
Second: If Norfolk is trying to convey that behind the ceremony and papal bulls was corruption, madness and crude pleasures, then book 2 starts off with a bang.
Third: for something so crammed with history, ostensibly well resear
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Kate
Feb 26, 2013 Kate rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
"The highly acclaimed author of Lempriere's Dictionary ... returns with a vivid, antic, and picaresque novel spun around one of history's most bizarre chapters: the sixteenth-century attempt to procure a rhinoceros as a bribe for Pope Leo X. Set in an age of global expansion, The Pope's Rhinoceros hold up the history of the rhinoceros as a mirror to the obsessions and corrupt fantasies of the Renaissance.

"In February 1516, a Portuguese ship sank off the coast of Italy. The Nostra Senora de Ajuda
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molosovsky
Oct 08, 2012 molosovsky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, literary, historical
Es hat *nur* 16 Jahre gedauert diesen verschlungenen zweiten Roman von Norfolk fertig zu lesen. Ich habe ihn damals auf Deutsch gekauft und im Laufe der Jahre mehrmals angefangen, bin aber stets irgendwo am Ende des ersten Viertels versackt.

Kein leicht zu lesendes Buch, vor allem nicht zu Beginn. Man muss sich daran gewöhnen, dass Norfolk in Kreuzstich-Manier zwischen Gegenwart und Vergangenheit hin und her springt. Auch die überbordende Figuren-Anzahl macht die Sache nicht leichter, vor allem,
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Rosina Lippi
This is a huge novel, very densely written. The first four pages recount the ice age in vivid terms, and thus make it clear that this is one of those novels and you have to dedicate all your attention to if you want the payoff.

Dig in, settle down, concentrate.

The story is built up around a real event, when the Portugese tried to bring a Rhinoceros to Pope Leo X (this is set in the 16th century) by boat, unsuccessfully (boat and rhinoceros at the bottom of the sea). There's a good dose of Gabri
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Nancy
This is one of the most difficult books I've read in a long time. Lots of characters, all with difficult names, some with more than one name. The story is told from many different perspectives in a zig-zag fashion, even from the point-of-view of fish, birds, and insects, etc. It is a long book—574 large pages. I'm surprised I finished it in a little over two weeks, and am glad I took notes so I could keep track of the plot. I feel there are many loose ends, for example Gerhardt’s plotting agains ...more
Cameron
Jun 29, 2014 Cameron rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Buried inside this tome there almost certainly lies a good novel or three. The concetration required to extract it from the shifts in time and place, and from an almost endless introduction of new and questionably relevent characters, all amidst poetic albeit self-indulgent deviations, was, I afraid to say, too much for me.
Norfolk is a very good writer and perhaps something more tightly written - and shorter - would have provided a better introduction.
Ann
Jan 04, 2015 Ann rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Het was een karwei, dit boek. Zoveel personages, zoveel verschillende verhalen, met een verhaal dat van hot naar haar, terug en weer vooruitsprong. Historische feiten begraven onder een hoop fictie. De ene moment ben je compleet meegesleurd door de gebeurtenissen en dan springt de actie naar andere mensen, andere plaatsen, andere tijden en heb je weer dertig pagina's nodig om je weg te vinden.
Thomas
Norfolk is a brilliant writer, a virtuoso, but he can also tax one's patience. One adjective will not do when there are ten that equally apply; nor will one subplot do when there are six that add color to the story. His tendency to dwell on minutia without revealing the purpose of a scene until the very end has an hypnotic effect, but the reader must trust the hypnotist and fall into the vortex of his language. A simple declarative sentence is not on the menu here. Persistence is required.

I fin
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Thomas L
Sep 28, 2015 Thomas L rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Selbst die Hälfte der Seiten hätte locker gereicht. Da wird mit solcher Präzision geschrieben, dass man Mikrobiologe sein müsste, um all die historischen Szenen noch mit einer derartigen Detailliebe (wohl eher Penetranz) toll zu finden.
Jared Shearer
Oct 08, 2014 Jared Shearer rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this, along with "In the Shape of a Boar", hoping it would be as good as Norfolk's other book "John Saturnall's Feast" which is one of my favorite books. I was sorely disappointed. It was so densely written, I couldn't make it 100 pages before giving up. :( sad face
Pam Brown
Jan 18, 2016 Pam Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disturbing and entertaining, historical and imaginative, horrifying and fascinating.
Sammy
Aug 15, 2013 Sammy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
An exhausting read. A dense, literate novel, with some staggering sequences (the sequence of mankind's conquest of the sea, as narrated by successive generations of herring, is one of the most masterful things I have ever read) but also with a sprawl that, ultimately, the author cannot control. I love large novels, however this one feels like the editor's attentions were elsewhere. No masterpiece, true. Yet I can confidently state that Norfolk's love of words, and oddball character insight, will ...more
Mia Rendix
Nov 06, 2011 Mia Rendix rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"Read" is too generous - I didn't finish this monstrous novel. It was forced upon me by my boss and she didn't finish it as well: But my despair/hatred is based on my aversions rather than literary quality. I really do not like this kind of fictional history with a male protagonist's endless odyssee sprinkled with war, religious bigottery, male bonding, violence etc. written in excessively colorful language - and on top of that we have one of those novels where females are reduced to two functio ...more
Adam
Apr 06, 2010 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finished it this weekend. Norfolk is a master of language. I've also read his Lempriere's Dictionary, also a truly dense read. I find it amazing. There are moments when the writing loses me, but I find that by plowing ahead, I can get the concepts and the plot does not suffer. Wonderful, wonderful read.
Manuela
Feb 08, 2010 Manuela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who isn't afraid of a complex book
Defying at times, with a lot of characters and stories within stories. I had to read some passages twice, but it was well worth it. Good enough to had me buy another book by the author.
Probably would read it again if I hadn't so many books on my to-read list.
Paulo
Apr 18, 2013 Paulo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dense, indeed, even boring at some stages, but the imagery, the detail and the overall ambiance are masterful and awesome!
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Lawrence Norfolk (born 1963) is a British novelist known for historical works with complex plots and intricate detail. His novels are also known for their unusually large vocabulary.

He was born in London but lived in Iraq until 1967 and then in the West Country of England. He read English at King's College London and graduated in 1986. He worked briefly as a teacher and later as a freelance writer
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