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Pompeii: A Novel

A book by Robert Harris

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Good... not great... but good...

  • Sep 15, 2004
  • by
Despite what you might think, Mount Vesuvius is something of a secondary character in this historical novel, even though the reader is well aware of what's in store for the mountain and the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. But knowledge of the impending cataclysm only increases the reader's interest with each successive tremor or sulfurous odor.

Robert Harris could have opted for a multi-character "movie of the week" kind of scenario, but instead he focuses more tightly on Attilius, the newly appointed Aquarius (think chief engineer) of the Aqua Augusta, the freshwater lifeline of southern Italy. It's a good choice, in fact I found the historical details of the Roman aqueducts more fascinating than the volcano; but then I opted for physics rather than geology in high school. In any case, a disruption to the flow of water to the people around the Bay of Neapolis (Naples) sends Attilius on an expedition to repair the aqueduct and restore the flow of water.

If ash and lava pose the more imminent threat, it's water that offers the catalyst and ultimate redemption. What should be a routine "fix and repair" operation uncovers further mysteries involving the disappearance of Attilius' predecessor, political corruption and romantic intrigue. And the presence of Pliny the Elder as a major character offers a number of opportunities for scientific or historical digression, none of which derail the story, thankfully enough.

The actual eruption of Vesuvious and its subsequent destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum only constitute the final hundred pages of the book, but the Harris does an excellent job of describing the event as if you were there to witness it. It's a good book, although not worthy of some of the hype that it's received.

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More Pompeii: A Novel reviews
review by . November 20, 2011
In 79 AD a new Aquarius is appointed, Marcus Attilius Primus, after the last Aquarius disappeared.      Unexplained water loss occurs int he cities near Pompeii and the Aquarius is sent to find the cause and correct the problem.      As the story begins, one of the wealthy residents, Ampliatus, a former slave, is putting one of his slaves to death. This young man was caring for Ampliatus's prized fish which were meant for delicacys for honored guests. …
review by . June 24, 2004
Just finished Pompeii, which didn't come alive for me until the last half of the story. The characterizations are a bit shallow, with the exception of Pliny Elder, who is brought to life as a living person rather than the historical icon he'd always been to me. Some of the excesses of Roman society are set forth in a truly revolting fashion! What this book does so well is place the reader on the Bay of Naples, from the initial portents of the volcanic eruption, through the inferno with its deadly …
review by . February 09, 2004
I have always enjoyed well written historical fiction, especially if the story line stays fairly close to actual events. This new book falls perfectly into that category: well written, historically accurate, and with a plot that keeps you turning the pages. It also has characters with whom you can become involved, and the writing is of a level that it makes you wish the actual events turn out differently, even though you know that's not going to happen. That kind of feeling only comes with a book …
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In this fine historical by British novelist Harris (Archangel; Enigma; Fatherland), an upstanding Roman engineer rushes to repair an aqueduct in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, which, in A.D. 79, is getting ready to blow its top. Young Marcus Attilius Primus becomes the aquarius of the great Aqua Augusta when its former chief engineer disappears after 20 years on the job. When water flow to the coastal town of Misenum is interrupted, Attilius convinces the admiral of the Roman fleet-the scholar Pliny the Elder-to give him a fast ship to Pompeii, where he finds the source of the problem in a burst sluiceway. Lively writing, convincing but economical period details and plenty of intrigue keep the pace quick, as Attilius meets Corelia, the defiant daughter of a vile real estate speculator, who supplies him with documents implicating her father and Attilius's predecessor in a water embezzlement scheme. Attilius has bigger worries, though: a climb up Vesuvius reveals that an eruption is imminent. Before he can warn anyone, he's ambushed by the double-crossing foreman of his team, Corvax, and a furious chase ensues. As the volcano spews hot ash, Attilius fights his way back to Pompeii in an attempt to rescue Corelia. Attilius, while possessed of certain modern attitudes and a respect for empirical observation, is no anachronism. He even sends Corelia back to her cruel father at one point, advising her to accept her fate as a woman. Harris's volcanology is well researched, and the ...
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ISBN-10: 0679428895
ISBN-13: 978-0679428893
Author: Robert Harris
Publisher: Random House

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