Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Review: The Pope’s Mistress: by Laylah Aragón


Genre: Autofiction


I make no apology for importing this description of the book more or less verbatim from Amazon. (On other indie sites the description is more colourful than this.) If you want to know how to write a book description, this is a first rate example. But then, you’d need to write a book that made pretty wild claims …

In this contemporary twist on real historical events, Aragón masterfully weaves together a thought-provoking story like nothing we have ever read before… An affair. A murder. And Laylah Aragón. Those are the pieces of the puzzle that made headlines six years ago. We heard the stories, the rumors and the countless conflicting eyewitness testimonies. We know that Laylah Aragón, a talented executive speechwriter, is tangled up in more ways than one in the scandal of the century. But no one knows what really happened. Now, amidst a puzzling turn of events, the mysterious Laylah Aragón has finally broken her silence. In this captivating and unexpected first hand account, we get sucked into the twists and turns of Laylah Aragón’s world, as the lines blur between truth-telling and survival, and she finally tells her side of the story.”

Hooky, isn’t it?


Laylah Aragón is the author of The Pope’s Mistress trilogy. Where this book sits in the trilogy isn’t revealed. If the two others are already published, I couldn’t find them. Aragón is a Cuban/Mexican-American Southern California native, a graduate of Mills College, a resident of New York City, and a committed vegan. Her books have themes of environmentalism, feminism, sexual liberation, and social progress.


This is an unusual book: I like unusual. Although it is not, perhaps, as unusual as it thinks it is. It is quite difficult to review, as almost any discussion of the plot would result in massive spoilers. This is a gnomic approach to novel writing, where much is apparently happening, and yet almost nothing is revealed.

The success of this book depends on the hooky description (above). You read the book because of the hook. You wait for that great title and that great description to deliver. You wait a long time. You have been promised that the Pope has a mistress. Popes shouldn’t have mistresses, how is this all going to come together? Is it true? Any of it? All of it?

While we wait for the book to get going we are in the unrelieved company of Aragón, protagonist and author. Fortunately, Aragón writes well. Her (many) opinions are interesting; her philosophy (of which there is a lot) stays the right side of von Daniken ramblings; her quotidian doings are sufficiently entertaining to keep the reader interested; the work she does as a scriptwriter-cum-prompt for an important corporation is beautifully set out. After the intriguing opening chapter, the mildly interesting pages turn well enough. And one knows it is all building up to something amazing. But it takes its own sweet time to get there.

For 90% of the book one follows Aragón’s breathless 25-hour-a-day life from Los Angeles to New York to Rome and back again. We get into every cab with her, eat every meal with her, know what she is wearing and why, how she likes to sleep, how she apparently has pegue (apparently a kind of empathy). On display are her enthusiasm for life, the way she controls her own destiny and follows her own moral code. This continues from the moment she is picked up in a Los Angeles sex club by Marco until she arrives back from Rome about a week after the adventure begins. After a while it all gets a bit claustrophobic.

Almost the whole plot is concentrated in the final 10% of the book, and I have to say I found much of it incomprehensible. I have searched back and forth through my Kindle, looking for the links which would enable me to make sense of what happens, and the characters who have become suddenly important but whom I cannot place. But it did not all come together, for me, even with work.

I was fully engaged until the Big Reveal. And I do feel, as a reader, somewhat cheated by what happens (or, rather, doesn’t happen) in Rome. Perhaps the secret of The Pope’s Mistress is so dangerous that, even now, Aragón dare not tell all? And this is why the end is a muddle. 

Buy now from:            Amazon US        Amazon UK

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***

Reviewed by: Judi Moore

Approximate word count: 80-85,000 words

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