Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Pure by Andrew Miller

Paris, 1785. An ambitious young engineer is given the task of clearing the Cemetery of Les Innocents. What follows is a remarkable story.

With the help of a group of miners from Valenciennes, the organist from the cemetery's church, a local prostitute and the sexton's granddaughter, the engineer Baratte undertakes this remarkable feat of human endeavour. They excavate mass graves, discover mummified bodies and dismantle the church. The work is exhausting both physically and psychologically. There are other forces at work too. Mysterious graffiti links the engineer's work to growing political tensions in the capital. Change is afoot and not everyone likes it.

Miller takes the fact of the cemetery's clearance and creates a fiction that is horribly compelling. From the opening chapter in Versailles to the scene in the catacomb and the vigil in the church, there is no shortage of excitement. The book is more than a page-turner though. Life in Paris and conditions in the cemetery are vividly described with an almost cinematic effect. The impact of the work on the characters is interesting since superstitions and the power of the imagination play tricks on the mind. The threat of terrors, both real and imagined, is never far away.

Pure is one of the most enjoyable books I've read in a long time.


  1. Sounds like an excellent book! I was about to start talking about Snowdrops, but I realise that's a different Andrew Miller. How confusing! Anyway, I'll look out for Pure. I generally read more contemporary than historical fiction, but this sounds like a good one.

    1. Sorry to be so tardy in posting your comment Andrew.

      I've recommended this book to several friends, with quite a mixed response. I think it suits my taste for the gothic which is not everyone's cup of tea. I'd be interested to know what you think of it if you do get chance to read it.


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