Top critical review
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Overrated but interesting novel
on 20 October 2004
I could have written a one sentence review of "Pompeii" such as "Nothing much happens and then a volcano goes off", but that would be cruel and ignore the many positive and absorbing aspects of this novel.Nearly everyone has heard the story of the destruction of Pompeii by Vesuvius from their schooldays or, more likely, from Frankie Howard films and how the decadent ,corrupt Roman town was wiped out by a volcanic eruption that dwarfed the Hiroshima explosion.
Harris conveys the Shock and Awe of the inhabitants of the Bay of Naples very well in this well researched piece of "faction" as Pompeii and its environs are bombarded by ash,rock and flame in the finale (and yes, there is no surprise twist in the tale -the volcano does go off) and this is one of the plus points of "Pompeii". But what I enjoyed most about the book was the description of and the detail surrounding the Roman aqueducts and in particular the failure of the Aqua Augusta which served the Bay of Naples area and the repair of which constitutes the main storyline of "Pompeii". Ah, the storyline. This is the main weakness of the novel in that it barely exists for three-quarters of it. The main character , the stoic Attilius, is the head aquarius who identifies,investigates and sorts out a water supply problem and this is essentially all that happens plot wise. Well apart from a rather unconvincing love story and a minor civic corruption sub-plot. "Pompeii" is ,in the main,an imaginative re-creation of life 1900 years ago; a detailed ,convincing description of Roman society in its imperial heyday. Harris's research is impressive and fact and fiction are interwoven expertly. But nothing much happens and you already know the ending before you even start the book. I fail to see why so many critics have raved about this book. It is certainly well written and well imagined , but the characters are a little one-dimensional and at times the "factual" overwhelms the "fictional" to the detriment of the novel. Definitely not in the same league as "Fatherland" or "Archangel" which were much more exciting.