Pure Paperback – 5 Jan 2012
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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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I liked the puzzling actions of some of the characters which allowed me to think my own thoughts, rather than their motives being too obvious. I also loved Miller's writing, particularly the dialogue which is witty and at times snappy.
The Valenciennois miners, who come to work in the cemetery to clear all the bones from the deep pits, exude a half-menacing, half-spiritual presence, which is beautifully shown, not told. The lack of understanding the petit-bourgeois had for the circumstances, experiences and outlook of the down-trodden, is a lovely underlying aspect of the allegory.
The idea that those who resist change (for whatever reason) are punished by those who have to bring about change, offers food for thought. Change and loss are important themes and the book and perhaps points to a moral (if there is one) that avoiding change for too long is disastrous.
Other readers will draw their own alternative conclusions.
All in all an enjoyable, intriguing and very worthwhile read.
Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young engineer (a profession relatively new to these pre-French Revolution days of 1785) is summoned to Versailles, there tasked by one of the King's Ministers with the exhumation and removal of the cemetry at Les Innocents, and the demolition of the church, closed for the last five years because of subsidence and its inability to "hold on to its dead". Jean-Baptiste is young, naïve, unsure of his own place in the world, and his own abilities; what does he want to be - a "man of the future" building a career in Paris, or a young man from Normandy who wants nothing more than to return to his roots? His hesitance, his uncertainty, is revealed not only in the story, but in the style of writing. And what beautiful writing; here is the description of a church organist playing a Couperin trio from memory, "his spine and neck arched slightly backwards as though the organ was a coach-and-six and he was hurtling through the centre of les Halles, scattering geese and cabbages and old women". Wonderful.
This changes as the story evolves; during the year of his work at Les Innocents, the reader is subtly drawn into the change in Jean-Baptiste, as he becomes more confident and more sure of his place in the world; his thinking, and the style of writing in the book becomes more strident, more assured, more blunt and forthright. This type of symmetry; Jean-Baptiste growing into himself, as Les Innocents is demolished, could easily be overdone; but the beauty of this book, and the beauty of the writing, is such that the reader is almost unnoticingly drawn into this beautiful symmetry without even noticing. From the beginning of the book, when the young unknown man waits at Versailles for the notice of the Minister, to the end of the book where something mentioned in the first pages is again seen, the symmetry and the balance of the story and the book is beautifully managed.
It's not until almost the end of the book that you realise the cleverness of the writing, and the balance of the story - one man's story, against the story of the neighbourhood in which he finds himself, against the story of France rumbling in discontent under the rule of Louis XVI and the crude scribblings on the walls against his "Austrian" Queen. Nobody is unchanged by this year; against the story of "the Engineer" is set that of those with whom he lives and works; his assistants, the miners brought from Valenciennes to do the work at Les Innocents, his friends, the human scatterings left from the demolition and removal of the cemetry and church.
A beautiful book; a wonderful story in itself, told beautifully, simply and without pretenstion; totally, thoroughly recommended.
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