122 of 131 people found the following review helpful
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones ....,
This review is from: Pure (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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. He's conscientious, and good to his men, but can be persuaded to let his hair down occasionally. The young engineer is a very likeable hero and an interesting young man. In between the gruelling work to reclaim the ground from the cemetery, we do get glimpses of the bustling markets and streets around the Les Halles area of Paris where the novel is set, and even radical murmurings. The historical detail is both rich and absolutely spot on. I liked the way Miller echoed Victor Hugo's style in describing Baratte's previous patron as the 'Compte de S-'.
The major business of the novel is the job in hand though. In this respect, (with my tongue in my cheek slightly), it is the opposite of Ken Follett's enjoyable blockbuster novel The Pillars of the Earth, in which a cathedral is built over generations rather, than a church removed in a year. In both, however, the work is the star - and it was actually fascinating to read.
I will have to re-read Ingenious Pain and catch up on others of Miller's backlist - I do have most of them in the TBR, as I enjoyed Pure very much indeed. This was a brilliant historical novel with literary nous, and I wouldn't have been surprised to see it as a Booker longlist contender.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Feb 2012 16:02:18 GMT
Mr. A. Walker says:
But it is written in the present historical. Aagh!
In reply to an earlier post on 3 Feb 2012 14:14:50 GMT
Annabel Gaskell says:
Each to their own - sorry you didn't get on with its style - I did.
Posted on 27 Feb 2012 17:47:19 GMT
W. McLanachan says:
I enjoyed the review and others. Sorry if I'm thick, but I didn't understand the significance of the event in the last two pages describing what was in the shed.
In reply to an earlier post on 8 Mar 2012 07:50:57 GMT
It did win the 2011 Costa Book of the Year Award, and deservedly so.
In reply to an earlier post on 8 Mar 2012 23:32:26 GMT
Annabel Gaskell says:
I agree a great winner, and that more than makes up for missing the Booker shortlist I hope.
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