Sunday 21 January 2018

Pompeii by Robert Harris

Pompeii by Robert Harris is my first bookclub read for 2018. 

I confess that Robert Harris is not a usual go-to author for me, although I've said that without ever having read any of his books before. I figured Pompeii would be okay as I'm always interested in anything Ancient Greek or Ancient Roman and Pompeii in particular has always fascinated me.

I visited Pompeii in 1991 on my grand European tour. It was an incredibly hot day which made it a little difficult to enjoy the sights and sites properly. But it left an impression on me that has lasted all these years.

Given that we all know what happened in Pompeii over those fateful few days in August 79 A.D. how could an author create enough tension or doubt to keep the reader guessing and turning pages?

By focusing on the role of the new aquarius for the Aqua Augusta, Harris achieves a great deal of suspense and believability in how someone might have actually survived the explosion. Knowing what happened also reminds us, the reader, of how futile and inconsequential our daily squabbles and conceits are in the face of complete annihilation. As aediles manoeuvered between power plays and slaves planned for the day they would be freed, as locals haggled for food in the markets and celebrated a public holiday, Vesuvius had even bigger plans that trumped anything and everything else. All of those schemes and hopes and dreams ended, leaving barely a trace behind. Human beings reminded once again, that our time here is brief and fragile and can be brought to an abrupt end by forces outside our control with barely a moments notice.

Lesson learnt?
By all means make plans for your future and dream about the things you'd like to do and be, but enjoy life NOW, act NOW and be the best you can be right NOW. Love where you are, who you are and the people you're with right NOW. All you really have is right NOW. Everything else once was or might be one day. All that stuff is fleeting and even as I write this, hundreds of moments of NOW have slipped by into my past, never to be retrieved again. The only person who cares about my NOW is me. So I might as well make it the best NOW that I can.

For me, right NOW, that's writing the best book post I can to reflect my reading experience with Pompeii.

The book wasn't necessarily the style of writing that I prefer, but the topic fired my imagination and prompted me to do some additional research - something that I LOVE to do. At times it felt like Harris stacked the story with as much of the information he had learnt about Pompeii as possible, but mostly Pompeii was an excellent yarn told by a storyteller who loves what he does.

My research found Pliny the Younger's letters about the eruption of Vesuvius as well as a recent article about the discovery of the charred and carbonised scrolls found in a library in Herculaneum - perhaps the same ones that Rectina was trying to save at the end of Harris' story.

In my search for the lost scrolls of Herculaneum, I discovered this interesting BBC documentary on the recent archaeological finds in the lesser known neighbour of Pompeii. If you have an hour to spare, I recommend taking a look; it complements the historical information included in Harris' novel beautifully. 


  1. Pompeii is wonderful to see and so well preserved. For the people though it must have been a terrible experience. I also love to do research when I am reading about real events or people. I will have a look at the documentary. Always interesting to have information on new finds and their interpretation.

    1. The doco was a great companion piece to the book as one of the things they covered was the plumbing and water pipes in Herculaneum.

  2. I wonder why it is so difficult for people to stay in the moment. It wasn't hard when we were children. But you are right; it is an essential way to live.

    1. Perhaps it depends on your childhood. I was always living forward as a kid & couldn't wait to be grown up and living my own life. The other times I had my head buried in a book, in another world!

  3. I would very much like to visit Pompeii one day. Something for the bucket list I suppose. This book will be right up my alley, I plan to borrow it from the library based on your review. Thanks for the link for the documentary also.

    1. Mr Books is now reading it and thoroughly enjoying it too. He likes the linear, straight forward story telling.


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