This novel gives a human perspective to the tragedy. The main character is Marcus Attilius Primus, the Aquarius. The first indication that something is wrong is that the Aqua Augusta has dried up; there must, therefore, be a fault somewhere. On investigation, Attilius realises that an unknown natural force has disrupted the supply. Increased sulphur in the water has killed the eels at the fishery owned by Numerius Popidius Ampliatus, so after executing the slave in charge of their upkeep, Ampliatus is forced to work with, and then attempt to corrupt, the new aquarius.
We learn how Ampliatus, an ex-slave himself, determined to obscure his origins and achieve his revenge on his previous owner (even though he was freed) is determined to marry his daughter into his previous owner’s family. Unfortunately Attilius has now become infatuated with Corelia, Ampliatus’ daughter and she is not the sort of woman who will willingly succumb to a loveless marriage. Attilius is in love with Corelia but it is far from certain that he will be able to save her from her marriage, let alone her fate.
The connivings of Ampliatus are soon belittled by the power of nature as the volcano shows its potential. Pliny and his nephew are also included in the narrative and the book is full of historical facts, testimony to Harris’ meticulous research.
I enjoyed Enigma but this is Harris’ finest novel so far. He retains a real reverence to historical accuracy and endows it with an urgency which leaps across the years.
I read the novel a while ago. Then, this summer, while kicking my heels in a charity shop as D trawled through a whole curver box of old LPs, I saw the taped version. Seeing that it was read by Alex Jennings, my own definitive Hamlet after seeing his bi-polar portrayal, I paid £1.99 (contributing the superfluous 1p to my favourite animal charity) and took it home. A week or so later when D wanted to listen to Hawkwind and that pulsating bass line was in danger of giving me a migraine, I had an early night and put this on. I heard it right through – even after D came to bed, I kept listening via my headphones). And the day after I looked out the book and re-read it.
This is my definition of a sleeper. This is a book which I read and enjoyed before I started blogging. I thought it was good and I read it and put it back on the shelf. Sometimes the second attempt is the best. I look forward to the third.