PompeiiReading this book, I began to wonder about Robert Harris' other books. Were Enigma and Fatherland actually good, was my memory incorrect? Because this book certainly wasn't working. Set just before, and during, the eruption of Versuvius, Pompeii is an incredibly well researched piece of fiction, tracking a character dealing with his own personal crisis as the world falls apart around him. Certainly the central idea is an interesting one, but Robert Harris fails to do anything of note with it at all.
We follow an engineer, who appears to have had a lobotomy at birth. I assume so anyway, as thats the only thing that can explain his actions. Despite knowing that speaking out of turn to the rich and powerful men he meets could result in his death, he does it anyway. Technically one could argue that he does so because he finds them despicable, and is heroic enough to tell them so, but to be honest it just makes him seem like a moron. He's a dull protagonist, and while he cares about what's happening, I never felt like caring about him, or the woman who he supposedly falls in love with. The narrative takes place over four days, so theres no time to develop any characters, which is disappointing. The bad guys remain bad, the good guys remain good, and the events continue to splutter to their conclusion.
The eruption, when it comes, injects some much needed urgency to this story, but the first 200 pages are just a chore.