Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Summer re-reads: Pompeii by Robert Harris

An unputownable re-read is this 2005 novel by Robert Harris. I liked it even more this time around, apart from one strand of the narrative, which I will return to.

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.
As addictive as a thriller, as satisfying as great history, says Simon Sebag Montefiore, while Boris Johnson is ‘lost in admiration at his energy and skill.

The amount of research Harris must have done for this is mnd-boggling but its all there bringing this ancient world to vivid life. I understand Roman Polanski was interested in filming it, but that never never happened. There are though so many other versions of the Pompeii story out there, from the 1959 Steve Reeves film, that 2007 German series, and the 2014 CGI version, which was not that bad actually - see Peplums/Epics labels. 

There is though a nasty streak of anti-gay comment if not homophobia here, as expressed by Pliny and the overseer Corax who seems to want to do things to our engineer hero .... but surely the ancient world was more accepting of same sex relations ....... this streak was also evident in Harris' first novel FATHERLAND (the gay young soldier who sees too much), and his ENIGMA (I couldn't be bothered reading it or seeing the film) about the Bletchley codebreakers seems to have sidelined Alan Turing in favour of fictional romances - at least THE IMITATION GAME rectified that!

More reviews state:
"a brilliantly orchestrated thriller-cum-historical recreation that plays outrageous tricks with the reader's expectations".
"As the famous catastrophe approaches, we are pleasurably immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the Ancient World, each detail conjured with jaw-dropping verisimilitude."

Harris's protagonist is the engineer Marcus Attilius, placed in charge of the massive aqueduct that services the teeming masses living in and around the Bay of Naples. Despite the pride he takes in his job, Marcus has pressing concerns: his predecessor in the job has mysteriously vanished, and another task is handed to Marcus by the scholar Pliny: he is to undertake crucial repairs to the aqueduct near Pompeii, the city in the shadow of the restless Mount Vesuvius. Other characters like that millionaire ex-slave (who starts the narrative rolling by feeding a slave to his eels) and his daughter Corelia have other agendas ..... once you start reading it you can't stop. 


  1. A great book indeed. I would have loved to see a Polanski adaptation of it (a Chinatown in 79AD). The great film about Pompeii has still not been made but yes, the 2014 CGI extravaganza was quite fun (except for the boring fights once the disaster strucks). Great blog too!.

    1. Thanks Tom = your blog look great too, I am following it now.