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2011 Historical Fiction

Pure – Andrew Miller

Pure

Five words from the blurb: Paris, cemetery, clear, bones, death

Andrew Miller’s debut novel, Ingenious Pain, is one of my favourite books and so I was excited to read his latest release, Pure. Miller is one of those writers with the rare ability to make even the dullest scenes spring to life. I had hoped that Pure would come close to the magic of his first novel, but unfortunately it didn’t quite make it, only equalling the quality of his other good, but not outstanding books.

Pure is set in Paris at the end of the 18th century.  Les Innocents cemetery, in the middle of the city, is overflowing and the stench of the dead is spreading to the surrounding area.

“They tell me that during a single outbreak of the plague fifty thousand corpses were buried at les Innocents in less than a month. And so it continued, corpse upon corpse, the death-carts queuing along the rue Saint-Denis. There were even burials at night, by torchlight. Corpse upon corpse. A number beyond any computation. Vast legions packed into a smudge of earth no bigger than a potato field. Yet no one seemed troubled by it. There were no protests, no expressions of disgust. It may even have seemed normal. And then, perhaps it was a generation ago, we began to receive complaints. Some of those who lived beside the cemetery had started to find the proximity an unpleasant one. Food would not keep. Candles were extinguished as if by the pinch of unseen fingers. People descending their stairs in the morning fell into a swoon….”

A young engineer, Jean-Baptiste Baratte, is summoned by the king and given the grim task of destroying the cemetery; moving all human remains away from the city centre.

This is a fantastic piece of historical fiction, perfectly capturing the destruction of the cemetery. The descriptions were so vivid that I could picture exactly what life was like  and the characters were so well drawn that it was impossible not to develop an attachment to them.

The only problem was that the plot was quite simple. A few events occurred along the way, but the book basically took 300 pages to describe the way in which the cemetery was removed. I enjoyed being transported to 18th century France, but the book’s limited scope means that I am unlikely to recommend it to anyone. Instead I advise you to try Ingenious Pain and after reading that I’m sure you’ll want to read all his other books anyway!

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20 replies on “Pure – Andrew Miller”

I’ve got this one in the TBR. I read Ingenious Pain soon after it was first published, and remember finding it quite a dense read – but maybe I should re-read it for I can’t remember the slightest thing about it otherwise!

Annabel, Ingenious Pain is quite a dense read and there is a lot going on in those few hundred pages, but that is what I love about it. I think about it all the time so I wonder if you read it at the wrong time in your life? I hope that you have better luck if you decide to re-read it. :-)

I have sort of a weird fascinationg with cemeteries and have been known to read lots of books on the dead (Stiff, Death’s Acre), so this one actually sounds like a rather intriguing premise for me!!! I have a feeling I’ll try it, and I’ll give Ingenious Pain a go, too!

Andi, I don’t share your fascination with cemeteries, but I’m sure you’ll find a few interesting little facts about them in here :-) I hope that you enjoy reading Miller’s books.

I’m with Andi and quite fancy this for the cemetery premise, I would be interested in that aspect alone.

Shame it didnt live up to your favourite read of his, mind you I know you have very, very high standards. Maybe the next one will do the trick. I am guessing you dont think this will be a Booker book – people have mentioned it from what I gather.

Oh P.S (as I can’t seem to comment on my own blog at the mo) I said ‘some people’ are equating David Abbott to McEwan, I can see why-ish but also think people who don’t like McEwan would like this.

Simon, I wouldn’t be surprised if it made the Booker longlist, but I don’t think it would be near the top of that list, or make the shortlist. I would like to see him make the Booker list, if only to make him more widely known, but he really should have made it for Ingenious Pain.

Thanks for the Abbott reassurances. I hope that you manage to get back onto your blog soon :-)

Stephanie, I’m feeling like the only one without a fascination for cemeteries :-( I’m pleased I was able to bring this wonderful author to your attention and I hope you enjoy the books if you decide to give them a try.

I should add Ingenious Pain to my wishlist. It sounds fantastic. I’d read this for the whole eighteenth century Paris thing, but I’m not really into cemeteries… they don’t creep me out or anything, but… well, I guess Père Lachaise Cemetery would be an exception…

I’ve seen this one at my local bookshelf, looking at me longingly with it’s great cover but decided to wait until I’ve hear some opinions about it. The plot may be simple, but the premise manages to be very appealing. Usually I horrify people telling them that I love to visit old cemeteries.

Alex, I agree that the cover is gorgeous and I would probably have been attracted to it even if I hadn’t been a fan of Andrew Miller – anything with gold shiny bits grabs my attention :-)

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