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Pure Paperback – 5 Jan 2012
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Audio CD, Audiobook, Unabridged
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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 (The Times)
Enthralling ... superbly researched, brilliantly narrated and movingly resolved (Observer)
Exquisite inside and out, PURE is a near-faultless thing (Sunday Telegraph)
*WINNER OF THE COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD*See all Product description
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However, I enjoyed it enough to get a Kindle sample of his earlier book Ingenious Pain. I was astonished at the similarity between the two. Naturally, Andrew Miller likes to explore a time period that he is interested in - I like a bit of eighteenth century myself - but the characters, their clothing, even the details of their appearance are identical. There are religious men, there is a very large-breasted woman, there are one or two young women who quietly give a sense of strength without saying much, there is a fascination with (and long descriptions of) the dead and their interment..... We expect a writer to have his likes and interests of course, but these books were almost indistinguishable. So if you did enjoy Pure, don't buy Ingenious Pain - and vice versa.
The Cimitiére des Innocents lay in the heart of Paris and these events took place in 1785. Revolution is as much in the air as the noxious miasma from the charnel houses. Andrew Miller has delivered an atmospheric novel.
The cemetery proves a powerful metaphor for the decay and corruption of the ancien regime. Its cleansing, its “purification”, ordered by Versailles, is prophetic.
The job is assigned to Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a provincial engineer and admirer of Voltaire and the philosophes. He brings to his task reason and planning, but events in the burial ground take a direction of their own. As they were to do soon enough throughout the land and beyond in place and time. This is a world about to explode. A better future is suggested by the flowers that bloom again over the emptied graves, other possibilities are prophesied in sudden acts of violence – as though dark forces have been uncovered, too.
It is hard not to read meaning and significance in every shovel of earth and disinterred corpse. If that’s all Pure was about it would be a clever allegory but not a great read. But it is more than that.
The author assembles a wide cast of characters. The family with whom the engineer lodges, the sexton of the church and his granddaughter, a musician, a courtesan and many many others. I particularly liked the serving girl Marie, a smart little madam from the Faubourg Saint Antoine, of whom Jean-Baptiste notes, “she has a small but effective range of facial expressions, all of them faintly unsettling”.
The clearance brings great changes to the lives of them all. There are winners and losers, love and loss. He captures such details that you can almost smell the city – the better boxes in the theatre come with a chamber pot, which is sometimes emptied, oysters might be on the menu and are sometimes safe to eat. It convincingly evoked France on the eve of 1789.
It won a prize – I think it deserved it.
You would think such a story would have its limitations but the author tells it so well you can almost smell the decay. It's both interesting and highly unusual and I found the historical detail fascinating.
I think there should have been more on the discontent with the royalty of the time and the ending wasn't great. However because of its uniqueness I would definitely recommend