Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle
IT'S AUGUST 22, 79 AD and the coastal towns on the beautiful
Bay of Neapolis are basking beneath a hot Italian sun.
But something is amiss, somewhere in the greatest aqueduct in
the world, the Aqua Augusta and for Attilius, the newly appointed
aquarius, maintaining the water supply becomes a race against
Yet what he discovers in his endeavour, is more sinister and
deadly than he could ever have imagined possible.
Set over a period of just four days, Robert Harris's compelling
new novel, entitled simply Pompeii, cleverly
mixes fact with fiction in a masterpiece of action and suspense.
Never before has Roman life with its extravagances, cruelty and
debauchery, been so vividly depicted and we see it all through
the eyes of four main characters - Attilius; Ampliatus, the former
slave turned corrupt millionaire; Corelia, his beautiful teenage
daughter and the great Pliny, admiral and scholar.
But what makes Pompeii so mesmerising, is the mountain
With historical fact at our finger tips and the benefit of modern
science, we know exactly what is happening and why.
To Attilius, it was all a mystery.
Several times, I wanted to tap his shoulder and shout, 'It's
the mountain. It's really a volcano and it's about to erupt big
time. Escape while you all still can.' But, of course, it's impossible
to change the course of history.
And the eruption, when it does come on the third and fourth days,
is described in such graphic and accurate detail, that you actually
feel a part of it.
I visited the ruins of Pompeii the day after strong winds had
dispersed the haze of heat that settles over Italy in summer and
was amazed at the close proximity of Vesuvius. Bold and stark
against an azure sky, it was almost as if I could reach out my
hand and touch it.
I also 'gawped' (not my choice of word) at the casts of victims
caught in the deadly pyroclastic flows, yet until I'd read Harris's
riveting and terrifying account, I hadn't fully appreciated the
true horror of those two, long-ago August days.
And there is, I'm sure, a lesson here for twenty-first century
Neopolitans. For the mountain called Vesuvius still dominates
the beautiful Bay of Naples.
It's quiet now; seemingly benign. But will the signs be heeded
when next they come?