I had a late night last – not because I was getting pissed or laid, but because I absolutely had to finish a book. Rock and Roll.
The book was Pompeii by Robert Harris, a novel set in the four days around the eruption of Vesuvius that buried the ancient Roman city so famously, along with a number of other towns in that area, notably Herculaneum. The hero, Marcus Attilius, is a brilliant engineer tasked with maintaining the Aqua Augusta after the disappearance of it’s existing Aquarius Exomnius (the Aquarius is the name of the head water engineer in charge of the aquaduct).
The aquaduct (Aqua Augusta) gets blocked and Attilius is charged with repairing it before the people of Misenum go thirsty. He heads off to fix it with a team of slaves and surly Overseer Corax towards the Roman port town of Pompeii.
The story evolves around the repairs initially along with Attilius’ suspicions of corruption involving the disappeared Exomnius and local ex-slave businessman Ampliatus, a morally bankrupt bully of a man and father of Corelia, the potential love interest for the engineer. There’s plenty of exploration of Roman culture including their fascination with penises and overindulgence.
Harris has heavily researched this book – we can almost smell the stink of the streets and see the magnificent architecture. Roman engineering was almost miraculous in it’s achievements and none more so than the aquaducts. Harris has woven fact with fiction with great flair in this novel.
I bought this book in the first place because I already had an interest in Pompeii. I’d taken Latin o-level at school (achieved a fantastic grade D in that) and as Pompeii was one of the most well-preserved Roman towns left (outside Rome I suppose) so that many of the Latin texts were set there. I’d already had an academic view of Pompeii Forum and the public baths, so I read this novel with interest. Harris decribed Pompeii almost exactly as I remembered it from my school lessons, with added brothels (our fragile minds were protected from such things) and much swearing from various baddies.
My favourite character was fat Admiral Plinius (Pliny) – a real-life Roman Scolar brought into the story with some skill. Ampliatus provides the suitable bad-guy character and there are plenty of other well-defined Romans doted around too.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope to visit Pompeii myself one day – I’d love to see it for myself.