Pompeii, by Robert Harris (2003) E

Date read: 1.22.06
Read from: Public library
Reviewer: Emera

Attilius, newly appointed aquarius (engineer) to the great aqueduct Augusta after the disappearance of the previous aquarius, is charged by the scholar and general Pliny to repair the disrupted aqueduct. With the water supplies of nine cities at risk, Attilius travels to the corrupt and vice-filled Pompeii to investigate the mysterious break, near Mount Vesuvius. As he travels, he finds that the damaged aqueduct and missing aquarius are only two of many strange omens – sulfur contamination, strange smoke, earthquakes, and inexplicable sounds like those of “walking giants,” all issuing from Mount Vesuvius.

Pompeii was very well-written and full of fascinating historical detail, but it simply failed to hold my interest as a novel. I pin this on a lack of interest in the characters, who seemed like afterthoughts of the historical research: realistic in their various roles of Roman citizenry, but psychologically uninteresting. The heroine, for example, was a rather generic  “No, father, I shall not marry without love!” type. The atmosphere is satisfyingly gritty and ominous, however, and gathers strength as the book continues, culminating in a fantastically powerful description of the volcano’s final eruption.

All in all, Pompeii is a readable, carefully researched record of the last days of Pompeii, but lacks in character development and emotional involvement.

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Robert Harris

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