Pompeii - Robert Harris I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii. This town forever immortalized by volcanic ash. I’ve seen a few documentaries and read a few articles, but they never really humanized the event. I was always curious to the life before it all turned to ash. Last year when I went to the Pompeii exhibit at the Discovery Museum I finally was able to experience it. A section of the exhibit was dedicated to the life of Pompeiians before the explosion then you walked into a theater which showed the explosion and the hours there after and then the doors opened to the body castings. It took my breath away. I mention this because Harris brings the same humanizing experience in his novel. This is the type of book that makes me fall in love with historical fiction all over again. Not that I ever really fell out of love with HF, but it's been a few months since I've read a good HF novel. Pompeii made me wonder why I stayed away from the genre for so long.

Pompeii takes place in 4 days. It begins two days before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and ends the day after the eruption. Due to the time line the pacing is quick and at times even frenetic. Marcus Attilius becomes the new Aquarius for the Aqua Augusta after the previous one disappeared. It’s a bad time as the drought threatens the Aqua Augusta, which supplies water to about 9 major towns. Additionally, Marcus meets resistance from the men and there is a crisis in the main line near Mt. Vesuvius. All these events led to a greater problem…the eventual explosion and the downfall of Pompeii.

I really liked Harris’ writing style. He’s detailed and historically accurate, but I never felt bored with it. He manages to quickly throw his reader into Roman life and captures it beautifully. I liked that he touched on all social classes from the poor slaves to the working middle class to the corrupt politicians. It helped depict an overall picture of life during those times. He also managed to capture the historical environment. I don’t think many people realize how Pompeii was known for its brothels. It was a gritty and raunchy town full of corruption, yet many of the higher class had their vacation homes there. This part of history was not only buried by the ash, but also by the archeologists who didn’t think it was appropriate to share these artifacts with the general public. Harris brings this part of the town to life.

Additionally, at the beginning of every chapter Harris throws in quotes from various volcanic sources like The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes and Volcanoes: A Planetary Perspective which helped to give additional information on what was happening at each hour with Mount Vesuvius. I loved this because it juxtaposed the natural events with what the characters were experiencing. There is a part where one of the characters comments on how people always need to blame some god for being angry that they are living a sinful life and are now getting punished by these natural events. Yet, they never stop to think that the earth is simply doing its thing and acting how it is supposed to. Isn’t this the truth even for these days?

So why the 4 stars if I loved it so much? There were some modern sayings that threw me out of the story. For example one character yells, "Fuck this, I'm not playing your stupid games" (p. 259). Somehow that doesn’t strike me as very historical. lol. Also, I did not care for the romance relationship that develops. It seemed very shallow. Overall though, this was a well written and thrilling novel.