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17 November 2010 @ 08:24 pm
#52 & #53  
Pompeii, Robert Harris

This is a story about a couple of Romans on the last days before the eruption of Vesuvius. It's much like the film Titanic, in that everyone knows going in that the boat will sink. The only question you have about the characters is whether they will escape or die, and if so, how.

There's a subplot involving Marcus Attilius, the new aquarius or plumber (I gather that's the most basic translation) of a town called Miseneum, down the bay from Pompeii. His predecessor ran off unexpectedly and it turns out he was swindling the Roman government with the judicious use of water taxes and paperwork. How unique of a bureaucrat. Marcus' love interest's father is also in on the get-rich-quick-via-crime scheme and thus tries to bump Marcus off.

The love story between Marcus and Corelia, to my eyes, was fabricated entirely so that Marcus would get his hands on not just the aforementioned hot paperwork but also clue him into the old aquarius' fears about an imminent eruption on the mountain. Except of course Romans thought volcanoes were the work of Vulcan and strange weather was caused by giants, so Harris makes a stretch in attributing scientific thought to ordinary dudes millennia before Jeremy Kyle was free to abuse it in the name of white trash.

I had highlighted a few quotes while reading, but I discovered afterwards that none of them belonged to Harris. What strength there is in his writing lies in driving a plot - which is what I remember from Fatherland, too - not in his way with words. He's just lucky that people like Pliny and inventions like aqueducts existed to give his book a tremor of dignity, otherwise this would be an extremely boring read.

Amanda's Wedding, Jenny Colgan

I really shouldn't have to, I suppose. Marian Keyes would probably beat him up with one of her hardcover bestsellers for even daring to suggest that chicklit is of substandard quality, but ... this book was of substandard quality. It didn't have to be, but I'm basically certain that Colgan fell into the lazy trap of knowing a pastel cover and the word 'wedding' would sell her book better than the perfection of her prose.

I picked this up in the radiology department, where abandoned patients' books go to die, mainly because I'd read Talking to Addison and found it quaint and charming. This one started out with possibility, but quickly lost it. The main character, Mel, is the staple fare: dead-end job, terrible dress sense, awful hair and low self-esteem. I'm not sure if chicklit writers pander to themselves or to their readers in creating these characters, but speaking as a woman with - I can admit it - great clothes, a lucrative and well-respected job and a groomed head, I want to read about people like me who still FUCKING SUCK at relationships. You don't have to be a loser for that.

The plot, what there is of it, is borderline insulting. Mel and her friend Fran try to sabotage Amanda's wedding because she's a bit of a cow who also - surprise! - happens to be successful and well-groomed. She's never more than two-dimensional, because of course those two qualities are more than enough to qualify her as a bitch supreme. Her fiance Fraser is Mel's ultimate love interest, although you could be forgiven for forgetting that, as she spends ninety percent of the book chasing after two other men. There's also a cripplingly bad, tacked-on subplot wherein Fran gets off with one of Mel's exes. For a book this long, that wasn't necessary, and left me blinking in surprise.

My last thought goes out to all chicklit writers, and it is: AIM HIGHER.

What to read next?! I have several exciting things on the way from Amazon, but they haven't arrived yet. I don't feel too obliged to continue with classics as I've passed my 50 book mark, but War and Peace and Les Mis are staring at me. Or maybe I should just cave and read This Charming Man, even though the fact that a quarter of it is written in italics annoys me already and I've only read four pages. DECISIONS.

ALSO. Posting some of these to Amazon, where I spend so much of my overtime: GOOD IDEA/BAD IDEA?

Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov | I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates | Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides ♥ | The School for Husbands, Moliere | On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks | The Famished Road, Ben Okri | Lord of the Flies, William Golding | Moby Dick, Herman Melville | A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway | Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell ♥ | The Sea, the Sea, Irish Murdoch ♥ ♥ | Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad | Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy | The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman | The Sea, John Banville | paddy clarke ha ha ha, Roddy Doyle | The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough ♥ | The Godfather, Mario Puzo ♥ | The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman | Possession, A.S. Byatt ♥ ♥ ♥ | Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales | The Mysteries of Pittsburg, Michael Chabon | Dragon Haven, Robin Hobb, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon ♥, Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby, Life of Pi, Yann Martel | Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier | At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O'Neill ♥ | The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt | Un Dun Lun, China Mieville | Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel &hearts | This Book Will Save Your Life, A.M. Homes | Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons ♥ ♥ | Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers | Crime and Punishment, Feodor Dostoevsky, The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard ♥ ♥ ♥, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard, Love's Shadow, Ada Leverson, The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov, The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie ♥ | The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton ♥ | I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett, Flipped, Wendelin Van Draanen, The Return Journey, Maeve Binchy, Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy, Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
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Current Music: teenage dreams // katy perry
louphoenix: Romelouphoenix on November 17th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
I can't stand Harris (because his Cicero novels go so strong against my historic perspective, but I need to defend my romans!

"Except of course Romans thought volcanoes were the work of Vulcan and strange weather was caused by giants, so Harris makes a stretch in attributing scientific thought to ordinary dudes"

Yeah, but you know that the greeks had a few hundred years before christ the idea that everything in the world is made out of tiny, tiny little parts they called atoms? The ancient times had a lot of mythology, but for most people those were just stories. Stories that were nice to listing to, but normaly there were one or two scientific theories to explain the real thing. Really believing in religious stories is something the romans will leave to the christians.

The Ancient World was in a lot of ways like our modern world, actually in a lot of topics they were a lot more modern than some states today. For example the had no problem with other religons (till that one religion that wanted to be the only one for everybody) or were more open about sex and homosexuality than a lot of areas in the USA.

Oh, and please do post your reviews on amazon! They are entertaining and way, way better written than most reviews there!

Edited at 2010-11-17 10:58 pm (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 5th, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
Ha, I am totally a Greekster - if there is such a thing, and if I even qualify given that my entire knowledge of them was founded on Encylopaedia Britannica entries (back in the bad old days before wikipedia). I totally look down my nose at the Romanising of what the Greeks invented.

And yes, I totally take your point that Greeks were an extremely knowledgeable people, but even so, the majority of the less-educated population was probably more credulous than Harris gives them credit for ... much like today, when the movements of Katie Price count for many as 'news'.

I'm still too scared to post there! No one attacks me here (mainly because they don't bother to read them, I think).