Father Christopher Fairfax

(creator: Robert Harris)

Robert Harris
Father Christopher Fairfax is 24 years old and `"the lowliest member of the bishop's staff" at Exeter cathedal. He had only been ordained the previous  Michaelmas and, when we first meet him, has unquestioning faith in the church and its teachings. He also has an "ardent nature" but unfortunately no apparent outlet for it.

Robert Harris (1957 - ) grew up in Nottingham, England, and was educated at Belvoir High School in Bottesford, and then King Edward VII School, Melton Mowbray. He went on to read English at Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he was elected president of the Cambridge Union. After joining the BBC he worked on news and current affairs programmes before becoming became political editor of The Observer.

He has published bestselling novels including the Cicero Trilogy, set in ancient Rome, and as a result was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His novel Conclave, featuring Cardinal Lomeli is also reviewed on this site.

He lives with his wife (they have four children) near Newbury in Berkshire.

The Second Sleep (2019)
The Second Sleep starts in April 1468 with young priest Christopher Fairfax travelling to a remote Exmoor village to conduct the burial of the local parson who had died under mysterious circumstances. His orders are to give the sermon and leave as quickly as possible. But when he arrives in this distant hamlet, haunting questions arise. Why did the parson possess heretical texts? How did he come to own banned ancient relics? Did these possessions lead to his death? It all gets more and more mystifying. If you enjoy being mystified, don't read on, as I may be giving too much away.

Over the next six days, everything Fairfax believes about his faith and the very history of the world will be tested to destruction. We gradually discover that he is actually living 800 years into the future in a time after the Apocalypse (which had seen the breakdown of technical civilisation) after which the church had returned to its old dominant and authoritarian ways (no women priests, back to the King James Bible and a total rejection of modern science).

We learn of an old document dated 2022 in which a Nobel prizewinner had tried to warn of the possible destruction of technical civilisation and listed 6 possible causes, including climate change, nuclear war and a pandemic resistance to antibiotics. We are not told which of these proved fatal. But we learn that "In the centuries after the Fall people had turned back to God: they would have needed to believe there was a life better than this one, whereas the ancients (that's us), with all their comforts, had been able to exist without faith."

If you find all this rather confusing, you are not alone, but it helps when it is explained (but not until page 80) that "The calendar had been reset after the Apocalypse so that it started in the year 666: the numeral assigned to the Beast of Revelation, whose appearance in the New Testament had foretold the ruin of the world at Armageddon".

It makes an extraordinary story which the author must have enjoyed writing and which I enjoyed reading, as when it is explained that there was a time when "almost every person, including children, was issued with a device that enabled them to see and hear one another, however far apart in the world they might be; that these devices were small enough to be carried in the palm of one's hand; that they gave instant access to all the knowledge and music and opinions and writings in the world; and that in due course they displaced human memory and reasoning and even normal social intercourse - an enfeebling and narcotic power that some say drove their possessors mad, to the extent that their introduction marked the beginning of the end of advanced civilisation."

The book is something of an inventive feat, but quite a challenge to read, and Fairfax may not be much of a detective, but it is certainly all very original and holds the attention.

There is an informative article about the author in Wikipedia.

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The cover does not really do justice to the book's inventive content.
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