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Pure by Andrew Miller

Pure (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Andrew Miller

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7685412,049 (3.63)158
Authors:Andrew Miller
Info:Sceptre (2012), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:historical fiction

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Pure by Andrew Miller (2011)

  1. 10
    The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses by Paul Koudounaris (clfisha)
    clfisha: Anyone interested in the creation of Paris Catacombs and in charnel houses/ossuaries in general this is a great non-fiction coffee table book.

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This is a beautifully written book and definitely immerses you in the time period. It is not plot-driven, to be sure, but that hardly matters because Miller has such a way with the language and makes his characters so real. ( )
  Caitlin70433 | Jun 6, 2016 |
The stink of the Innocents is permeating the soil, the water, and the air of Paris. The rotting remains of the overstuffed cemetery of les Innocents are leaching into the food and even the very skin and breath of the living inhabitants of the surrounding city. The vast yard of bones and soupy remains is eroding into their cellars. So the King's minister has hired on an engineer from Normandy to put together a crew that will dig up and relocate the corpses to the Catacombs, then destroy the cemetery and the church.
This is a sumptuous and evocative story of late 18th century Paris. It is as if Andrew Miller himself just came back from 1785 and is eagerly regaling us with all that he saw. We are jostled by the crowds in the streets and the rough labourers in the cemetery, we smell the fetid air, we feel the grit beneath our feet and between our fingers, we peer into the dim candle-lit shadows of hovels, church recesses, and charnel houses.

Eeeeww factoid: Scientific American provided a fascinating article on the history of this cemetery. The cemetery was so crowded that not enough oxygen was available for decomposition, so mounds of fat resulted. This human fat was turned into soaps and candles.
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anecdotes-from-the-archive/2011/04/15/you-po... ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
What was I thinking when I put this book on my wish list? I guess it was that I liked Miller's writing in "Oxygen" and wanted to try out more of his work. However, I invoked the Nancy Pearl rule and terminated my reading of this book. It was kind-of interesting, in an historical sort of way, but was just too much removed from my own experience to make it worth reading - at my advanced age, with not too many books worth of reading time left. If I were a 20 year old, it would probably be worth reading for "my own education". I'm beyond education now. ( )
  oldblack | Apr 19, 2016 |
This book was not quite what I had expected. I did, however, still enjoy it. The macabre setting lends itself to supernatural expectations but the natural is just as strange. Jean-Baptisite is not the most sympathetic of characters but his journey is an interesting one. ( )
  Laurochka | Feb 6, 2016 |
This was voted Costa Novel of 2011 and was chosen by the Glasgow book group as our next read.

The blurb says:
"Deep in the heart of Paris its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing. Its stench hangs in the air, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. The over-filled graves pop and burst, filling people’s basements with bones and spreading disease across the capital. But the cemetery’s roots are embedded deep in the hearts and minds of the people, for whom the graveyard has long provided a backdrop to their daily lives. 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. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own."

I loved the story of Jean-Baptiste. He arrives in Paris quite naive but with a sense of purpose. He sets about his task of clearing/cleansing Les Innocents but also finds himself distracted by the people, sights & sounds of Paris. The task takes its toll on him, but he also learns/grows from his experiences. As always, much more about the book would give too much away.

The descriptions of pre-revolutionary Paris and of the graveyard in particular are deeply evocative, I could almost feel my stomach heave as the author described the 'taint' to breath & food from the proximity to the graveyard. I loved all the characters that surrounded Jean-Baptiste and find myself wondering what happened to all these people during the revolution. Did they take part, did they survive, how were they impacted?

I think that's my only quibble: I would have liked a little more. Not just about the characters, but also about how the local people were affected by the graveyard's removal ie was life better or worse? Did the air clear? Was the taint removed or would that linger for the rest of their lives?

That's hardly a complaint tho, I loved the book, flew through it and would highly recommend it.
( )
  Cassandra2020 | Jan 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Flowers bloom again in the disinterred cemetery. Sunlight illuminates the darkness through the broken roof of the church. Though progress brings suffering and death, the balance, as Baratte knows, "will still be in your favour". As Miller proves with this dazzling novel, it is not certainty we need but courage, now as much as ever, before we too are reduced to bones.
added by riverwillow | editThe Guardian, Clare Clark (Jun 24, 2011)
Purifying centuries of decaying mortality and removing the miasma that permeates the dwellings, skin and even food of the area is neither simple nor necessarily popular. Miller threads into this fabric subtle ideas about modernity, glancing at Voltaire, public health and the seditious graffiti that anticipate the revolutionary fervour of 1789 - just four years away.
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The time will come when the sun will shine only on free men who have no master but their reason. Marquis de Condorcet
In memory of my father, Dr Keith Miller, and of my friends, Patrick Warren and George Lachlan Brown.
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A young man, young but not very young, sits in an anteroom somewhere, some wing or other, in the Palace of Versailles.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
How do you remove
A cemetery in Paris?
Bone by bone, it seems.

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Engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte is tasked with emptying an overflowing cemetery in Paris in 1785, work he considers noble until he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery parallels his own fate and the demise of social order.

(summary from another edition)

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