Pure by Andrew Miller

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Pure by Andrew Miller

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: The location is Paris and the year is 1785. A young, rather naive engineer is given a new project which involves distasteful but necessary work in a cemetery in the city centre - but is he up to the job?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: June 2011
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1444724257

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Winner of the Costa Novel Award 2011 and the Costa Prize 2011

I've read Miller's Oxygen and The Optimists so I was looking forward to reading this novel. The story opens in the opulence of the Palace of Versailles. We are given vivid descriptions of both the scale of the palace and its grandeur. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, the young engineer, seems completely over-awed by the whole occasion. Even although he's not entirely sure what is expected of him in Paris, he accepts. He needs to eat, after all.

On the journey to his new lodgings in Paris, Baratte has plenty of time to think over this new project of his. He can't quite get his head around it. He even thinks he might be dreaming and he'll waken up soon. No such luck, I'm afraid. The fact of the matter is that he's tasked with removing many, many bodies in a city centre graveyard called Les Innocents and transferring the remains elsewhere. He's been given an advance on his salary so really he's got no excuse. Responsible, diligent and earnest, he soon starts on the job ...

Miller does a thorough job of telling his readers all about the engineer's new lodgings, his new landlord and landlady (along with their unmarried daughter) as well as a description of the surrounding streets. But against all of this - is the rather eerie backdrop of the cemetery. In fact, Baratte's tiny bedroom is so close, he feels he could reach out a hand and touch the boundary line. Pervading everything, is the suspicion of a strange smell. Could it be the smell of death?

As the story develops, Baratte meets a few unsettling locals. One person in particular catches his eye. The job requires labour so Baratte brings in a team of ex-miners from another part of France. Men who are used to hard, unrelenting labour. Some of these men have even developed a bit of a stoop due to the back-breaking work of the mines.

The tone and atmosphere throughout this book is, as you'd imagine, bleak. It's almost as if every sentence sits heavily on the page, thanks to Miller's writing. So if you like intense characters and a rather grim subject, then this book should do it. Having said that, Miller has some nice lines in descriptive text. His main character, Baratte comes across as a likable young man. He has his faults (they become clear later on in the novel) but I couldn't help but warm to him. I also admired him for persisting with this grisly task. I kept asking myself why didn't he give up and look for something more suited to his talents. He's an engineer, after all.

And the reader is taken on this arduous and unpleasant journey with Baratte. This part of his life that he'll never be able to reclaim. It's almost as if he'll never be the same again. We get up close and personal to his many doubts, his anxieties, his life back in the country with his rather simple parents and also an unexpected slice of romance. In summary, this is a rather sombre (given the subject matter) book written with an elegant and creative touch.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then try The Summer of Drowning by John Burnside.

Buy Pure by Andrew Miller at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pure by Andrew Miller at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Pure by Andrew Miller at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pure by Andrew Miller at Amazon.com.


Booklists.jpg Pure by Andrew Miller is in the Costa Prize 2011.

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