Reading guide for Pompeii by Robert Harris

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by Robert Harris

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  • First Published:
    Nov 2003, 304 pages
    Oct 2004, 368 pages

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Reader's Guide
  1. 'It struck me that Rome might be a way to write about America' —Robert Harris Robert Harris had initially set out to write about a utopia gone wrong, set in the future and created by a giant American corporation, he even originally researched the Walt Disney 'empire'. Do you think the Roman Empire is an interesting way to write about a modern day superpower? What are the similarities with current global events?

  2. There is a current vogue in film (Gladiator, Troy, Alexander the Great) as well as books for classical themes — why do you think this is? What are the parallels with our society?

  3. Harris has referred to 'toga resistance' because so much about the Romans — their habits, assumptions, they way they speak, even their names — can be alienating to a contemporary audience. Do you feel he succeeds in being readable and authentic?

  4. The ability to disguise the outcome is held to be a vital part of the thriller writer's art. Pompeii is a 'known-ending story' — how successful do you think the author has been in building tension despite this? Where does the suspense lie? Does he use the reader's foreknowledge to good effect?

  5. 'I was interested in power and those who seek power' —Robert Harris Discuss the theme of power, corruption and greed within the novel — particularly in light of the apocalyptic ending. Also, the forces of nature versus civilisation and town versus countryside.

  6. The epigraphs to the chapters are extracts from volcanology texts — what purpose do you think these serve? Do they work, along with the four-day structure, as a narrative device? If so, how?

  7. Harris has an accessible but informed style of writing. He spent three years researching Pompeii. Has he convincingly blurred fact with the pace of fiction for you? Are plot twists chosen over nuances of character and does this matter to you?

  8. Attilius is an aquarius, the structure of the novel moves from water to fire — discuss the theme of water within the novel.

  9. The story of Attilius and his unfulfilled love for Corelia adds a very human dimension to the novel. Do you feel this is an effective subplot?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Fawcett. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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