Saturday, 25 May 2013

Volcanology Gets Cool - POMPEII by Robert Harris

Pompeii by Robert Harris
Geology meets Volcanology meets All Round Mr Nice Guy. That is Pompeii by Robert Harris.
Having read Imperium by Robert Harris few short months ago (and having reviewed it here on the Blog) I found that I quite enjoyed his uncomplicated writing style. I in no way mean unsophisticated or simplistic, for he is an author who can comfortably shoulder the mantle of an old fashioned storyteller.
Many authors try to be story tellers, but they over write or have not the skill and under write, or get caught up in too many tangents, thinking that everything they do has to be with the single intent of delivering the next great International Epic Bestseller.
Pompeii certainly became an International Bestseller, but it was not really an epic. It was a story of a man - an Aquarius - and was melded with a intriguing blend of geology, volcanology and precise Roman history. Very well done, in my opinion, but no epic.

I do not know if the geological and volcanological elements would put others off, whether others may prefer a story about people only, but I happened to find them extraordinarily fascinating.
I have a feeling the book was not what some may expect. Where you may have expected a Wilbur Smith type epic - multiple characters and their lives in the lead up to the Mt Vesuvius explosion - that is not what you got.

Robert Harris gave you instead, Attilius, an Aquarius who came to the Bay of Naples as a result of the mysterious disappearance of the former Aquarius, Exomnius, and took over the running of the Aqueducts. And for the most part, this is Attilius' story as he finds the water supply in disarray and bit by bit, clue by clue, he starts to unravel the causes. Will it be in time though? Obviously, since everyone knows what happened to Pompeii and Herculaneum, everyone will realise he cannot be in time to do anything about those disasters, but can he be in time to avert others?

I found the final third of the book to be the most compelling. The eruption and the various stages of the eruption and how it might be experienced from different places in the surrounding area. In the towns, at the base of the volcano, on the water, in the Bay. I was mesmerised by it all.
There was a moment where I thought the book perhaps could have finished and yet it went on. And there was a scene or two that seemed inserted to make the book longer as those scenes kind of tripped up the urgent momentum of the book during the eruption.
But I had to give the book 5 stars. It deserved it in my opinion. For despite its flaws, it had me at ave.

- MM

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