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BONEYARD OF THE VANITIES,
This review is from: Pure (Hardcover)
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Andrew Miller's "Pure" is an assured work set in Paris shortly before the Revolution.
Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young Norman engineer, is summoned to meet one of Louis XVI's ministers and engaged - through a mistake in identity - to "remove" the sprawling Cemetery of the Innocents, which, though closed years before, is a source of major pollution in the metropolis.
"Pure" is propelled less by plot than by a series of episodes across the year that it takes Jean-Baptiste to fulfill his task. Jean-Baptiste develops in character and confidence as he becomes a "man of reason," a manager of men, and a lover. There is a full set of colorful characters: the Monnard family with whom he boards; Armand the flamboyant organist of the moribund Church, the aged sexton and his precociously wise granddaughter, the intellectually curious Dr Guillotin, and, also possibly from real life, Charvet, a provocative tailor who may or may not be the progenitor of the famous chemisier and so on. But the main presence is Les Innocents itself, a phantasmagoric, Boschian landscape of hellish fires, deep pits, simian Flemish workmen, haunting corpses and an all-engulfing stench that permeates its inhabitants' clothes, food and very bodies.
The period setting is well chiseled but not belabored. Graffiti and other signs presage the Revolution -the cemetery itself might be a metaphor for the decaying Ancien Regime - but these too are subtle.
Altogether, this is a book that grips the imagination and lingers in the memory.