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Pure [Paperback]

Andrew Miller
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (274 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Jan 2012

A year of bones, of grave-dirt, relentless work. Of mummified corpses and chanting priests.

A year of rape, suicide, sudden death. Of friendship too. Of desire. Of love...

A year unlike any other he has lived.

Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, 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 it.

At 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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre (5 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444724282
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444724288
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (274 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Andrew Miller was born in Bristol in 1960. He has lived in Spain, Japan, Ireland and France, and currently lives in Somerset. His first novel, INGENIOUS PAIN, was published by Sceptre in 1997 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Grinzane Cavour prize in Italy. He has since written five novels: CASANOVA, OXYGEN, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Booker Prize in 2001, THE OPTIMISTS, ONE MORNING LIKE A BIRD, and PURE.

Product Description


* The 2011 Costa Book of the Year * (.)

Every so often a historical novel comes along that is so natural, so far from pastiche, so modern, that it thrills and expands the mind. PURE is one . . . Miller's newly minted sentences are arresting, often unsettling and always thought-provoking. Exquisite inside and out, PURE is a near-faultless thing: detailed, symbolic and richly evocative of a time, place and man in dangerous flux. It is brilliance distilled, with very few impurities. (Holly Kyte, Telegraph)

One of the most brilliant aspects of Miller's writing is his ability to question unobtrusively, through style alone, sentimentality about both life under the Bourbons and the creative destruction of revolution . . . he has an instinctive knack for casting bright similes, never overextended, that ripple suggestively . . . The writing throughout is crystalline, uncontrived, striking and intelligent. You could call it pure. (Jonathan Beckman, Literary Review)

Quietly powerful, consistently surprising, PURE is a fine addition to substantial body of work . . . pre-revolutionary Paris is evoked in pungent detail . . . By concentrating on the bit players and byways of history, Miller conjures up an eerily tangible vanished world. (Suzi Feay, Financial Times)

Murder, rape, seduction and madness impel this elegant novel . . . Within this physical and political decay, Miller couches the heart of the matter: how to live one's life with personal integrity, with a purity not so much morally unblemished as unalloyed with the fads and opinions of society . . . Miller populates Baratte's quest for equanimity with lush and tart characters, seductively fleshed out, who collectively help to deliver the bittersweet resolution of his professional and personal travails. (James Urquhart, Independent)

Very atmospheric... Although the theme may sound macabre, Miller's eloquent novel overflows with vitality and colour. It is packed with personal and physical details that evoke 18th-century Paris with startling immediacy. Above all he brings off that difficult trick of making the reader care about an unsymapthetic character. If you enjoyed Patrick Suskind's Perfume, you'll love this. (Daily Express)

It is an audacious novelist who can so knowingly prefigure the symbolism at the heart of his own work without threatening the success of the entire enterprise. It is fortunate, then, that Miller is a writer of subtlety and skill...Unlike many parables, however, PURE is neither laboured nor leaden. Miller writes like a poet, with a deceptive simplicity - his sentences and images are intense distillations, conjuring the fleeting details of existence with clarity. He is also a very humane writer, whose philosophy is tempered always with an understanding of the flaws and failings of ordinary people...Pure defies the ordinary conventions of storytelling, slipping dream-like between lucidity and a kind of abstracted elusiveness... As Miller proves with this dazzling novel, it is not certainty we need but courage (Clare Clark, Guardian)

His recreation of pre-Revolutionary Paris is extraordinarily vivid and imaginative, and his story is so gripping that you'll put your life on hold to finish it. Expect this on the Booker longlist, at the very least (The Times)

This is a tale about "the beauty and mystery of what is most ordinary"... Miller lingers up close on details: sour breath, decaying objects, pretty clothes, flames, smells, eyelashes... He is also alive to the dramatic possibilities offered by late-18th-century Paris, a fetid and intoxicating city on the brink of revolution... Miller intimately and pacily imagines how it might have felt to witness it. (Daily Telegraph)

the book pulls off an ambitious project: to evoke a complex historical period through a tissue of deftly selected details. (Sunday Times, Culture)

almost dreamlike, a realistic fantasy, a violent fairytale for adults (Brian Lynch, Irish Times)

enthralling...superbly researched, brilliantly narrated and movingly resolved. (Robert McCrum, The Observer)

I finished it in two sittings. Pure is a work of beauty embroidered by Miller's exquisite gift for poetic description... it is a delight. And though a historical novel with decay its running theme, the writing is dazzlingly fresh and modern. (Carol Midgley, The Times)

Seldom have I read a novel that evokes the atmosphere of a time and a place so well. The moral, cultural and physical stench of seething, pre-revolutionary, contagious Paris is pervasive on nearly every page as Miller evokes a society in terminal decay... Miller surprises us with some superb characters. Armand is a delight... Miller's prose style is dazzling yet never obtrudes (The Times Book Club)

Book Description


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
194 of 202 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Andrew Miller is a writer new to me, but on the evidence of this excellent book I have ordered a number of his other novels to read.

The story is a deceptively simple one concerning a young engineer from Normandy who is charged with the task of overseeing the destruction of the cemetery and church of Les Innocents in Les Halles in Paris in 1785. Miller is brilliant at evoking the period, and peoples his tale with a cast of fully fledged characters whose lives react with the engineer, Jean-Baptiste Baratte. In this year of work Baratte grows as a person and this in itself is worth the price of the book, but where Miller really scores is in his subtle laying out the undercurrents of disquiet and unrest which would eventually lead to bloodshed and revolution. From the dog pissing on the parquet of the neglected Palace of Versailles to the mysterious graffiti which appears threatening change, this is a city on the cusp of something terrible.

The removal of the bones of the dead accompanied by disgruntled priests singing prayers seems a shadow of what will come. All this is accomplished in the most wonderful prose. Miller has an absolute gift for finding the most apposite phrase.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it very highly indeed.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
(4.5 stars) In pristine sentences and uncompromising descriptions, used with great irony, Andrew Miller tells of a young engineer from rural France in 1785 whose job is to empty the overflowing cemetery at the Church of the Innocents in central Paris and rebury all the bones in the catacombs, for sanitary reasons. Set in 1785, just four years before the French Revolution, Miller's main character, Jean-Baptiste Baratte, supervises the emptying of over twenty burial pits located within a small, enclosed area. The work is "both delicate and gross," as the entire neighborhood around the cemetery is putrid after the cemetery's long use (and, more recently, the interment of fifty thousand people in less than a month in mass graves during a plague). The stench permeates everything - buildings, food, and ultimately people, and Baratte has only one year to make it "pure."

Despite the unusual and unsavory subject matter, Miller recreates the human side of the story - to make the reader empathize with Baratte, to see how important the job is to him, to show how he longs for acceptance - and even a job as unsavory this one quickly involves the reader in the story and its historical setting. Details about Paris in this pre-revolutionary time stick in the reader's memory: an elephant, somewhere in Versailles, that exists on Burgundy wine; a revolutionary group devoted to the future, that plasters warnings about the church and aristocracy on walls and buildings; the nearly hopeless lives of the miners Baratte recruits to work on this horrific job; and later, their differences in outlook from the masons he hires for additional on-site work.
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123 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones .... 12 Aug 2011
By Annabel Gaskell VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Initially I approached this book with some caution. The only other Andrew Miller novel I'd read many years before was Ingenious Pain, and although I could see that it was a great novel, I did find it hard going at the time. The premise of his latest though was so attractive, and by the second chapter I was hooked on this rather original historical novel.

Pure is set in 1785, shortly before the French Revolution. Jean-Baptiste Baratte is a young Norman engineer, hired by the King's offices to oversee the cleansing of an overfilled and now closed Parisian cemetery and its church, that is poisoning the earth and air all around it. Nice job eh? Jean-Baptiste heads off into Paris, where lodgings have been set up with a local family overlooking the cemetery. He soon makes friends with Armand, the church organist, and finds that everything smells better after a brandy or two. He contacts his colleague from his last job at the mines at Valenciennes - Lecoeur will bring a team of miners to Paris to dig out the cemetery. Jeanne, the teenaged grand-daughter of the sexton will look after the men - indeed most of them grow to love her as their own daughter.

All is set and the excavation is underway. Some doctors arrive, including one Dr Guillotin - yes! He is there to examine the bones, but his presence will prove necessary on many occasions over the following months - injury, illness, attempted murder, rape, suicide - everything will happen to those involved on this job. But it's not all bad, for Jean-Baptiste will also find love in an unexpected place.

The story is entirely that of Jean Baptiste - he is present on every page.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I put off reading this book for a while by my unfounded belief that it would be some sort of fictionalised history of the days leading up to the French Revolution. In fact, it's nothing of the sort. It's a novel set a few years before the French Revolution, with a fine eye for historical detail and for the manners of the time, but it nonetheless has the pacing and character development of a modern novel, and it's very readable.

The stench of the cemetery of l'Innocents near the Pont Neuf in Paris has become unbearable - it is so stuffed full of nearly 1,000 years of burials that there is more rotting flesh and bone than there is soil, and during times of heavy rains neighbouring cellars have collapsed under the weight of water-saturated bodies. A provincial engineer, Baratte, is charged with clearing the cemetery and demolishing the church. This is a quite macabre scanario, but much of the interest also comes from the budding revolutionaries and other bizarre characters that Baratte meets with during the project.

The clearance of the cemeteries is a historical fact, of course - the bones were stacked in abandoned quarries that have become the Catacombes of Paris. In this novel, the themes of decay, of collapse and of the sweeping away of the old orders combine as a sort of extended metaphor for the French monarchy. However, the story is that of the engineer Baratte, who arrives in the city naive and impressionable.

It's a skillfully-executed book, one with a rather strange macabre, fin-de-siecle or (more accurately, I suppose) pre-revolutionary feel.

Update, 25-Jan-2012: I see that Pure has been awarded the Costa Prize. This is well-deserved recognition: congratulations, Andrew Miller!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it
Loved it
Published 14 days ago by RK
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 20 days ago by j g hames
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A gift hopefully enjoyed
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. S. Aldworth
5.0 out of 5 stars Novel that will take you on the incredible historical journey to the...
'Pure' written by Andrew Miller is novel that takes place in the Paris 1785, few years before the outbreak of the French Revolution that will irrevocably change not only France,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Denis Vukosav
5.0 out of 5 stars Behold, a master at work
This has got to be one of the most beautifully written contemporary British novels of recent years. Andrew Miller's writing is a revelation: apparently effortless, wonderfully... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Petra Bryce
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read
I found the challenges presented to the engineer throughout his charge to be interesting, and also some of the characters in the book.
Published 2 months ago by Mr Ian Shanley
5.0 out of 5 stars I am off to Paris to see the square of les innocents
We read this for our book group and it was fabulous - google Ashendon Book Group to read our review.
Published 2 months ago by Sian
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read
How would you set about demolishing a centuries-old cemetery full of ancient plague-pits in the centre of a city? Read more
Published 2 months ago by Bibliophile
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice easy read. feels as real as sunlight.
Not as great as his debut but enjoyable and easy to read. The history fits into the background better than any period drama and the formally drawn characters are both interesting... Read more
Published 3 months ago by dazzaling69
3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg in book form
Like the proverbial curate's egg, parts of this book are excellent, some of them so air-punchingly good that it's tempting to give a higher rating than three stars that suggest... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Debbie Young
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