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Pompeii - Robert Harris



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 time.

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 called Vesuvius.

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?

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