The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Staying Power


Just finished reading Lustrum by Robert Harris. It was excellent, you all must read it, but probably to get the full effect you should read the first book in the trilogy, Imperium, first.

While Imperium covered Cicero’s time as Quaestor , Lustrum is essentially a novelisation of the year spent by Cicero as Consul. I say’ novelisation’ rather than novel because the book follows historical facts – and as there are great many historical facts known about Cicero, it doesn’t leave a great deal of room for invention. But instead Robert Harris has concentrated on bringing the facts to life; giving us a sense of the personalities of the various senators, the atmosphere of Rome, and most of all into turning history into an exciting, un-stop-reading-able, political thriller; Cicero masterfully defeats various plots against him, and becomes a hero to the nation, only for adoration to go to his head, which leads him to make bad alliances, and for him to lose the respect and trust of the people as past mistakes catch up with him.

Of course, the thing all reviews have to pick up on is that this is sort-of analogous to the second half of Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister (just as Imperium was sort-of analogous to the first half; with Illyrian Pirates providing an equivalent to the War of Terror which leads the Republic to compromise its principles and its freedoms). To be honest, though, this sort of spot-the-subtext-second-guessing does the novel a disservice; yes Tony and Cicero were great public speakers, who gained and then lost popular support because necessity meant they made friends with people who brought troubles upon them, but beyond playing the selective-description game that’s about it. It’s just a damn fine political thriller where everyone wears togas.

And if, like all sensible people, you’re a fan of HBO’s Rome and the BBC’s I Claudius, it kind of works as a prequel, covering how Caesar and Pompey rose to power and how the toppling of a few select dominos ultimately led to the fall of the Republic

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