I swallowed Robert Harris’ Pompeii last week, and no, it’s not the same story as the Kit Harrington gladiator movie with the same title. Pompeii is a novel about a new aqueduct engineer, Marcus Attilius Primus, who’s recently been shipped in from Rome after the last engineer mysteriously went missing. The other people on the aqueduct team are less than pleased with this young upstart, and things go bad to worse when the Aqua Agusta breaks down and the water supply of nine towns runs dry. Throw in rampant corruption, a beautiful young woman, and an upcoming natural disaster, and you won’t be missing no gladiators. And if you do, there is at least one gladiator speckled into the mix.
But seriously, isn’t aqueduct engineer versus volcano a way more interesting premise than gladiator versus volcano?
At less than three hundred pages, it’s a short, swift read with a built in tension because well… it’s about a volcano disaster. It’s the type of book that I’d recommend for a short haul flight. And the funny thing about good books is that the construction is often better than “great” books. The characters are not unique or memorable, but their motivations are easy enough to understand. The dialogue, the description, and the plot all work well together, but the wow factor is in its premise. What better lens to capture the downfall of Pompeii than an engineer with as scientific a background as one can expect from a 1st century Roman?
I recently read Michael Chabon’s Summerland, which is a beautiful book, but requires a lot of patience from the reader and Robert Harris’ Pompeii is no work at all.
For those who loves swords and sandals, you’ll love this! But for those who aren’t, it’s pretty light on history and built like an action movie. It has clean, bare prose style that will be appeal to people who like thrillers.