The stink of the Innocents is permeating the soil, the water, and the air of Paris The rotting remains of the overstuffed cemetery of les Innocents are leaching into the food and even the very skin and breath of the living inhabitants of the surrounding city The vast yard of bones and soupy remains is eroding into their cellars So the King s minister has hired on an engineer from Normandy to put together a crew that will dig up and relocate the corpses to the Catacombs, then destroy the cemetery and the church.
This is a sumptuous and evocative story of late 18th century Paris It is as if Andrew Miller himself just came back from 1785 and is eagerly regaling us with all that he saw We are jostled by the crowds in the streets and the rough labourers in the cemetery, we smell the fetid air, we feel the grit beneath our feet and between our fingers, we peer into the dim candle lit shadows of hovels, church recesses, and charnel houses Eeeeww factoid Scientific American provided a fascinating article on the history of this cemetery The cemetery was so crowded that not enough oxygen was available for decomposition, so mounds of fat resulted This human fat was turned into soaps and candles.
Deep In The Heart Of Paris, Its Oldest Cemetery Is, By , Overflowing, Tainting The Very Breath Of Those Who Live Nearby Into Their Midst Comes Jean Baptiste Baratte, A Young, Provincial Engineer Charged By The King With Demolishing ItAt First Baratte Sees This As A Chance To Clear The Burden Of History, A Fitting Task For A Modern Man Of Reason But Before Long, He Begins To Suspect That The Destruction Of The Cemetery Might Be A Prelude To His Own The year is 1785, and Jean Baptiste Baratte is a young engineer from Normandy, summoned to Versailles He hopes that his mission will be to construct some kind of bridge or impressive new building in the French capital Instead he is told to empty the abandoned cemetery of Les Innocents, a putrid pit of mass graves, and to demolish the adjoining church Taking up residence in the nearby guesthouse of the Monnard family, he goes about planning the job at hand and hiring the workers he needs He makes some interesting new friends, such as Armand, the church s eccentric organist But this enormous task presents a number of unexpected difficulties to Baratte, and he begins to wonder if it will ever be completed.
I ll start with the positives Andrew Miller paints a wonderfully evocative picture of pre Revolutionary Paris in this novel It is a city on the edge, as rebels dare to daub anti monarchist graffiti on the walls of important buildings, risking life imprisonment in the Bastille The story is rich in period detail, from the pistachio green silk suit Baratte regretfully buys after a day drinking with Armand, to the eerie charnel houses where the bones of the dead are stored The oppressed masses eat cheap, unappetizing food, such as calf s heads, and seek to blot out their worries with gallons of watered down wine The smells of the time are vividly rendered, the eye watering stench of Les Innocents even making its way into the meals prepared by the Monnards.
However, despite its convincing setting, and a number of intriguing secondary characters, the story just didn t come together for me The narrative lacked momentum, I never felt a sense of urgency that Baratte would not complete his mission There was something unsatisfying about the climax, it was all a bit too tidy and convenient And the blurb gave away a number of important plot details, I wish I hadn t read it.
So it s a mixed bag overall If you re looking for pacy, plot driven historical fiction, I would steer clear of Pure But if you would like to read an eloquent, colourful tale of 18th century Paris, then you will find much to enjoy in this novel.
What a disappointment Miller could have done so much with this concept the destruction of Les Innocents in Paris Unfortunately, the novel is too short atrocious under development of character, a lack of any cultivated plot and a dismal amount of the ins and outs of the mechanics of such a project demolition of a church, exhumation of thousands of corpses etc left me thinking there really wasn t much depth to the novel.
There is much potential in this novel, Miller s use of a wide range of characters, from various walks of life, could have allowed him to open up some really interesting narratives This opportunity was missed however The most interesting character is the eccentric Armand, who seems to be surplus to the actual job being done, making me think he was added to the novel later in order to make the novel interesting If it wasn t for Armand, there would be no humour at all For Miller, Armand also ticks the French Revolution box, but that s one of the many problems it reads like a box ticking exercise, rather than a convincing political backdrop Jeanette, the sexton s daughter, shows promise in the opening chapters but seems to fall flat on her unreal face as Miller reduces her to a silly, romantic, insubstantial little girl as she falls for Barratte As for our l ingenieur himself, he s as uninteresting as a wet lettuce on a hot day.
There are a few ridiculous events which seem to come from nowhere, but I wouldn t say I wasted my time reading Pure It was an interesting concept and although the writing style seems forced, it did spark my own imagination.
In conclusion, I gave a coffee book novel a chance and found it wanting In true book snobbery style I m returning to my Man Booker Prize novels to re engage my brain.
I could not put this book down It made me ignore family members without even meaning to Way than usual, even D What s a little danse macabrebetween friendsPure focuses on Jean Baptiste, a fledgling late 18th century engineer whose first commission is an impossible one to efficiently empty the oldest cemetery in Paris and demolish the cemetery s cathedral Author Andrew Miller includes something for everyone in this good natured tale Engineer Jean Baptiste is a country mouse who gets schooled first thing by a new fast talking city frenemy The engineer is also resented by the faubourg residents who want to keep their landmark, even as its stink pervades every aspect of their lives How will he prevail There are colorful characters and a wealth of historical details that feel fresh There s also romance on multiple fronts, and a bit of political intrigue though maybe not enough to satisfy actual French history fans There weren t too many engineering details, but the ones included warmed my nerdy soul.
keywords yes, we all know Armand s a virtuoso with his organ how to get out of Versailles without a guide pistachio satin just doesn t feel very manly we re not throwing all these lovely roof leads away are we who knew the sextant knew so much about corpses I d like her even better if she weren t only fourteen It was the subject matter that attracted me to this book, as it seemed so unusual, based on an actual event, the clearing of Les Innocents graveyard in Paris which had become what we would refer to nowadays as a health hazard.
This gruesome task is undertaken by a young engineer who is commissioned to complete the task in a year.
What follows is the dark but compelling story of how this work was done, and it s effects on those involved.
There are many unusual and interesting characters, suicide, rape, insanity, a love affair, ladies of the night.
and lots and lots of bones I loved this book, the writing was superb, and I felt the author perfectly captured both the atmosphere of Paris, and the menace of the approaching revolution.
Even though the number of historical fiction books rendering the time of the French Revolution appears endless Andrew Miller takes a different approach in Pure Following Jean Baptiste Baratte, an engineer contracted to get rid of Les Innocents a cemetery , the novel is rich with symbolism not necessarily found in all Revolutionary novels As one can probably deduce from the mere summary above Pure is not a typical historical fiction narrative Rather, Miller s novel is a canopy of symbolism, metaphors, and similes presented in a literary novel style Encompassing views on the French Revolution and life in general Pure moves smoothly within the plot but also contains deeper implications which provoke modern thought Miller doesn t overly emphasize these intelligent conversation precursors and instead, he is subtle which allows the average mass audience to be entertained if not searching for controversial thought.
Even aside from the philosophical aspect, Pure has a steady pace and strong enough plot line to carry the work The character of Baratte doesn t follow the standard character arc and yet the reader will feel that Baratte is familiar This is due to the combination of his personality shining through his actions plus Miller s use of occasionally telling the story from the points of view of other characters which makes Baratte a surprisingly well rounded character Pure contains minimal dialogue and is of a character study driven piece However, this doesn t slow the novel and Miller s prose and eloquent yet with a proper ratio of informal additives writing style is perfect, cohesive, and smooth The less philosophical and story lined portions of Pure are both believable and realistic, carrying the reader away and resulting in one living the story along with Baratte At the same time, the reader becomes and accustomed to Miller s symbolism, deeper meanings, and the representations of various governmental and political ways of life applied to both the French Revolution and today Pure can almost be compared to a combination of Thomas More s Utopia with some elements of Orwell s 1984 , but with a unique feel of its own.
Approximately three quarters though, Pure undergoes drastic and dramatic events These are unexpected and provide suspense, but also are slightly disconnected from the simplistic depth of the story, previous Regardless, even with the small discord each event still has rhyme, reason, and a moral and philosophical depth which encourages interpretation to the theme This portion of the novel also features short chapters and a quickened pace Although some readers may have an issue with this, Pure doesn t feel rushed but on the contrary, emotions are heightened and the effect is poetic in essence The conclusion of Pure rounds out the novel, reverts to the beginning, answers questions, and explores social class structures in terms of the symbolism throughout This ending is solid and well matched with the overall feel and plot Pure is a strong, multilevel, compelling, and is a well written work from Andrew Miller Pure certainly encourages curiosity in Miller s other pieces and is precisely the type of novel for book clubs or student discussions Pure is much recommended for those readers seeking intellectual literary reading.
Pure, Andrew Miller s sixth novel, takes place in 1785, in Paris, as Normandy engineer Jean Baptiste Baratte is summoned to the Palace of Versailles There, Baratte, who is a graduate of the Ecole Royale des Ponts et Chauss es, is commissioned by the State to demolish the ancient cemetery beneath the church of Les Innocents in central Paris, and dispose of the thousands of bodies buried there.
The cemetery is far too close to the famous markets of Les Halles The many bodies, whose fat refuses to decompose properly and saturates the ground instead, are causing the entire area to smell horribly Even the food is being affected Les Innocents both the church and the cemetery are now closed after human remains broke through a wall into the cellar of a neighboring tenement Baratte will oversee the year long moving of the graves and charnel pits as well as the transportation of the remains to a quarry outside of Paris, an act that is supposed to cleanse or purify the church and the surrounding land.
Baratte, of course, can t do all of this alone, so he calls on a friend, Lecoeur, who brings a group of sturdy and stoic Belgian miners to help get the job done As the project gets underway, Baratte is both sickened and humiliated, but he s accepted an advance from the State, and he s also a forward looking man of reason, not of emotion or superstition He tells himself he is only sweeping away the poisonous influence of the past and that he and his team will be the men who will purify Paris Although Baratte tries to console himself with thoughts of the good he s doing, his task seems destined to failure from the very beginning, a failure that s symbolized in the part of France that Baratte calls home Baratte and Lecoeur have invented what they consider to be an ideal society and have named it Valenciana, derived not from Valencia, Spain, but from Valenciennes, France, the terrible, and terribly dirty, coal mining town in Normandy from which Baratte and Lecoeur both hail.
One would think the Parisian residents in the immediate vicinity of Les Innocents would welcome the purification Baratte and his miners are undertaking, however, surprisingly, some of them oppose it, among them the family the Monnards with whom Baratte lodges Ziguette, the unmarried daughter of the house, is so incensed that she attacks Baratte in the middle of the night with a hammer.
Ziguette isn t the only local with whom Baratte forms a difficult relationship during his year of digging and purification Besides the somber Monnards and their beautiful but strange daughter, and Lecoeur, of course, there s Jeanne, the sexton s fourteen year old granddaughter, a sensitive and gentle girl who s lived her entire life to date among the dead By helping Baratte identify the graves, Jeanne tells him she is forced to assist in the destruction of her little paradise There s the mad priest of Les Innocents, P re Colbert, the stylish organist, Armand, who takes Baratte in hand and shows him how to dress in the latest fashion And of course there s Dr Guillotin, the levelheaded and very humane man who becomes a part of the demolition and purification for research purposes only, and whose name will forever be linked to a terrible invention used in the coming revolution.
H loise, however, is the person Baratte grows closest to She s the hooker with a heart of gold, who manages to retain an air of mystery and who isn t at all stereotypical despite the way I described her.
All of the above characters and bring Baratte s story to life, and all of them are needed by Miller In this story, everyone has a necessary part to play that can t be played by anyone else Pure is a book filled with action There s murder, suicide and you ll never guess which character , madness, fire, and sex with a mummified corpse And why not Digging up the graves of children who ve died of plague or young women preserved by embalming day after weary day is enough to drive even the strongest man witless And the book is, of course, deeply political, though if you don t like politics, you probably won t even notice because Pure is, first and foremost, a wonderful, and wonderfully told, story Still, how could Pure not be political This is a book that centers on a repressive past that s making way for the enlightenment of the future Like most things consigned to the past, however, Les Innocents doesn t give way easily or without a fight Change is, often than not, a very painful process.
The mood of Pure is, of course, bleak And despite all the action in the book, the story often feels ponderous and claustrophobic, but ponderous and claustrophobic in a very good way The characters may be vivid and colorful, but the atmosphere of Pure is heavy with anticipation and dread At times, it s downright creepy I could see the fog off the Seine shrouding the graves of Les Innocents and hear the rain dripping down through the leaves on the stones We know that a dark cloud is hanging over France, and Miller has succeeded is conveying this dark cloud in his novel With every page the reader turns, he or she feels that something terrible, something really horrible, is waiting just around the corner.
The writing is flawless, and for me, it was vintage Andrew Miller, reminiscent of his glorious debut novel, Ingenious Pain, also set in the eighteenth century, an age Miller seems especially adept at calling forth in all it s filth and forward thinking In Pure, for example, as Baratte waits in the anteroom in Versailles, a small dog fouls the floor, causing Baratte to ponder the way even a dog s piss is subject to unalterable physical laws While Pure is filled with the stench of the Paris streets, threaded through the book is an air of modernity There are nods to both Voltaire and the importance of public health.
Miller s descriptive powers have never been better He writes of eyes as two black nails hammered into a skull, and coffins opened like oysters and my favorite, the liquorice shimmer of a human eye This is prose that shimmers and soars It s a book one could read for the prose alone, but Miller is far too good a writer not to unsettle us as well In Pure, he gives us much to think about while we re marveling at his way with words, thoughts that will linger long after we ve read the book s final page.
As Baratte tackles the technical difficulties of his commission, he begins to wonder how to live his own life with purity, and how best to achieve the happiness he so desires Fittingly, it s a dog that shows him the way, just as it s a dog that introduces him to the filth of Paris near the book s beginning.
I thought this book was flawless Miller is such an extraordinary writer that I expected much from him, but not this much Pure is one of those books you only come across three or four times in a lifetime It s vivid, it s elegant, it s earthy, it s depressing, it s vibrant I can t say enough good things about the book or Miller, himself For me, Pure is definitely a work of art and the cover, a retelling of Goya s etching titled The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is both gorgeous and perfect The only other book I ve read as brilliant as Pure is Hilary Mantel s glorious Wolf Hall.
Miller s novel Oxygen was shortlisted for the Booker in 2001 I expect Pure to at least be shortlisted If there s any fairness in life, it should capture the win.
If you re looking for a highly literary novel that s as perfect as a book can be, you can t go wrong with Pure And if you haven t yet read Miller s debut novel, Ingenious Pain, now s the time to do so Both books are brilliance distilled in its Purest form, guaranteed to please even the most discriminating of readers.
5 5Recommended Definitely, and especially for those who enjoy highly literary novels This is a beautiful book that s beautifully written I can t praise it highly enough.
Read my book reviews and tips for writers at www.
com But what is the significance of the elephant I don t understand about the elephant At one point, one of the characters says That is a metaphor , another responds A metaphor Where did you go to school And the first speaker answers Nogent le Rotrou.
This little dialogue sums up part of my difficulties with this book Firstly Andrew Miller absolutely crams this novel to the brim with metaphor Secondly some of the dialogue seems too anachronistic and thirdly , and this is obviously my problem but after all this is my review so you are stuck with my struggles, I could not always fathom whether Miller s characters were being sarcastic, honest, naive ,witty or just plain stupid.
It is set four years before the horrendous bloodletting of the French Revolution and Terror and it covers the work by a young engineer who is given the less than pleasant duty of removing a whole cemetery from the centre of Paris by removing its Church, defunct inmates and living servants and eradicating its looming presence from the locals memories The novel s title then, Pure , obviously cries out as metaphor in itself From the superifial one, the purifying of the ground through removal of bones and the in filling the holes with quicklime onto the purifying of society through the upcoming revolution which we catch glimpses of shimmering in the near future through daubed slogans and whispered threats We sit as gods, well aware of what lies in store for the self satisfied aristocracy of the ancien regime who are soon to be swept away into horror and the agonizingly unimagined end of their lifestyle but, of course none of the characters know any than their ideals and fleeting imaginings we alone know the reality ahead Or does it refer to the purity of motives or otherwise of those involved in the action, or is it the sexual purity of the old sexton s granddaughter or again the redeeming nature of the imPure harlot s love, cleansing and resurrecting hope and trust in the hero or is it again about the Pure notes of the organ which creaks and groans in the background throughout the story gradually lessening and growing discordant or again the purity which everyone loses as they come and into contact with the vile smell of rotting corpses and a glutted earth Now you see, that is a lot of links and references to attach to one word but I do not think I have excavated, if you ll pardon the pun, even half of the significances that can be drawn from the story Miller purposefully loads image upon image and metaphor upon metaphor but the story seems too lightweight to hold it The scaffold that his engineer and the miners construct to hold back the onslaught of rotting soil and decomposition as they dig deeper is flimsy and weak and i cannot help but think that their scaffold is a metaphor for his story There are some beautifully observed passages of description and some strikingly simple sentences which simply give you clearly the image he wants you to see This is a magnificent talent and it is lovely when it is encounteredOver Paris, the stars are fragments of a glass ball flung at the sky.
The streetlamps are guttering For their last half hour they burn a smoky orange and illuminate nothing but themselves Of Versailles and its mirrorsLiving here, it must be impossible not to meet yourself a hundred times a day, every corridor a source of vanity and doubt Or again the gradually de built ChurchBeams of light spread out until seperate shafts become a jagged fringe moving slowly north.
By the end of the month light laps at the edge of the nave, streaks the choir, pools by the foot of the altarHere to me he ingeniously manages to conjure up the incoming light and yet pairing it with words which, within the context, manages to communicate filth and an oily viscous mess which sullies rather than cleanses It is simple yet profound, he chooses words and conjures a clear picture Yet this talent seems to me sometimes, to continue the foulness of the analogy, to be pissed away into the sand He exhausts his readers with intent or significance and so the book is flowing along powerfully and methodically but then is suddenly stumbling over misplaced sentences or details and the atmosphere or tension is punctured and dissipated Maybe it is just me but I struggled with this book which is such a shame because Miller appears to me to be an excellent writer and maybe he wanted to write something towering and momentous but does so half cocked.
The ending is odd I was left unsatisfied but not in any sense that it enabled me to imagine what their future was I did not find myself thinking which of these survived the Terror, which of them indulged in it, how did they fare in the years ahead I found I did not really care Is that something lacking in me, or was it a clever construct by Miller that his characters were too caught up in the decay and grossness of the charnel pits to grow on or was it something lacking in his story in and of itself Maybe there is another metaphor to be going along with.
The back of these books is never a good guide to whether you will like it or not The publishers used a review by a Holly Kyte of the Sunday Telegraph She breathlessly gushes and uses words such as near faultless and brilliance distilled This novel, according to her thrills and expands the mind As she evidently understands it than I did maybe i should ask her What in the Name of all that s holy was the significance of the bloody elephant