Monday, 7 March 2011


Title: Pompeii

Author: Robert Harris

Number of pages: 396

Started: 1 March 2011

Finished: 7 March 2011

Opening words:

They left the aqueduct two hours before dawn, climbing by moonlight into the hills overlooking the port—six men in single file, the engineer leading. He had turfed them out of their beds himself—all stiff limbs and sullen, bleary faces—and now he could hear them complaining about him behind his back, their voices carrying louder than they realized in the warm, still air.

“A fool’s errand,” somebody muttered.

“Boys should stick to their books,” said another.

He lengthened his stride.

Let them prattle, he thought.

Already he could feel the heat of the morning beginning to build, the promise of another day without rain. He was younger than most of his work gang, and shorter than any of them: a compact, muscled figure with cropped brown hair. The shafts of the tools he carried slung across his shoulder—a heavy, bronze-headed axe and a wooden shovel—chafed against his sunburned neck. Still, he forced himself to stretch his bare legs as far as they would reach, mounting swiftly from foothold to foothold, and only when he was high above Misenum, at a place where the track forked, did he set down his burdens and wait for the others to catch up.

Read a longer extract here

Plot summary:

A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome's richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world - the mighty Aqua Augusta - has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.

What I thought:

Robert Harris is one of those authors that I am still unsure about. His books are set in interesting and compelling times in history (mainly fairly modern history) and have all the elements of a good read, but sometimes I feel that they lack that final element to really draw me in. What that final element actually is, I find hard to say, but whatever it is means that, for me, some of his books lack the ability to be a really gripping yarn.

This book was set in the days immediately surrounding the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, and knowing that the volcano is going to erupt regardless of all the plot that was going on around it did help to build suspense. It was a decent read, but the jury is still out on this author.

No comments: