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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Undone By Stubbornness

Lustrum: A Novel - Robert Harris

A sequel to Imperium, Lustrum deals with the career of Cicero after he has achieved the consulship. Like the previous volume, the narrator is Cicero’s slave and secretary, Tiro. The focus of the book is the rise of the triumvirate of Pompey, Crassus and Caesar, the beginning of the end of the Roman republic and the foreshadowing of imperial rule.

Harris certainly succeeds in bringing Ancient Rome to life and in showing us how much we still have in common with its citizens but, for me, this was not as successful as Imperium. There are too many characters and I found myself losing track of them all. Harris provides a dramatis personae at the end but the fact that this is necessary speaks for itself. Of course it’s a problem that's inherent in dealing with material drawn so closely from life. Reality does not fit conveniently into the shape of a novel and a politician’s life, at any point in history, is never likely to be straightforward.

Nevertheless, despite the huge cast of characters, the endless twists and turns of Roman politics, and the fact that the outcome is both pre-ordained and widely known, Harris does a creditable job in creating an engaging and entertaining narrative. Cicero emerges as a complex and contradictory character: honourable but vain, idealistic but calculating, proud but pragmatic. In the end, what really stands out, however, is his stubbornness and it is this, more than anything, that is his undoing.