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Pure (2011)

by Andrew Miller

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1,0476215,029 (3.67)164
Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. 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, a fitting task for a modern man of reason. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.… (more)
  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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» See also 164 mentions

English (61)  Dutch (1)  All languages (62)
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
When I look back not a great deal happened but the superb characterisation was compelling reading and I liked the way the author changed styles after a momentous event had a profound effect on the main character. The historical detail was excellent. ( )
  Patsmith139 | Mar 15, 2021 |
But.. what's with the elephant? ( )
  Hyms | Aug 9, 2020 |
Great historical fiction with strange premise. Jean-Baptiste Baratte is a young engineer who finds himself employed to supervise the taking down of an old crumbling cathedral in Paris along with the cemetery next to it which is filled to over flow with dead bodies. It is the stink of too many dead that has finally caused the government to remove this site. Jean-Baptiste is a good man from a rural area who believes that reason should rule out superstition.

Upon arrival in Paris, Jean-Baptiste meets the young organist who continues to play in the church although no one is there. Armand soon becomes a friend. Jean-Baptiste lives next to the church with a family, the Monnard's, whose strange daughter is very upset and unhappy about the removal of the church and the cemetery. The strange smells of the place have become so much a part of the lives of those that live nearby.

There are a host of other characters in the book including a past friend of Jean-Baptiste who he recruits from the mines to help him in his assignment. There is the old sexton of the church who lives with his lovely daughter, Jeanne, who can smell nothing of the stench. The digging up of bodies sounds horrid, but the story is written with such skill, it is believable, and not impossible to imagine in the mind's eye.

The task of destroying the church is finally finished but not in the way that he had expected. There is violence, friendship, fun, death, and horror intermingled in this well-written novel. Set in a time just before the French Revolution, I'm sure this can be parsed down as an allegory for French society at the time, but it is also just a good read.

Only problem, is the ending which I would describe as weird - probably missed some point in there. ( )
  maryreinert | Feb 1, 2020 |
Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young engineer is given a patronage appointment to empty the cemetery of Les Innocents in Paris. The cemetery is full to bursting with interments from centuries past whose smell of decomposition and encroachment of cadaverous material into basements has begun to irritate the local populace. The project will involve destroying the church of Les Innocents, the mausoleums, the charnel houses, the meters deep burial pits, defleshing the bodies, and collecting the bones for relocation to a nearby quarry. A disturbing fiction which I could barely put down. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Oct 4, 2019 |
This is the third book I've read off of my "Genre Novels That Should Be Classics" reading list in a quest to expand my book choices beyond my normal comfort zone. I'm not a big historical fiction reader. Sometimes it makes appearances in my Fantasy or Science Fiction picks, but I never avidly seek it out. That's why I chose to listen to the audio of Pure. Jonathan Aris came highly recommended as a narrator, and I hoped he'd help me immerse myself in Paris circa 1785.

Jean-Baptiste Baratte was an intriguing character. A young man, an engineer, with visions of grand projects flitting across his mind. Imagine his surprise when the first job that he is tasked with, is the destruction of Les Innocents cemetary and its church. I was pulled in by this thought. If this is the only job offered, and you need the work, does it matter that you'll be destroying a piece of history? Unearthing the loved ones of others? Watching Jean-Baptiste struggle with this, following along as he fought his own inner demons, fascinated me.

What was tough for me, were the layers this book contains. Pure is packed to the brim with metaphor and symbolism. It may have been easier for me to soak that all in if I had been reading printed words. Perhaps. Despite Jonathan Aris' excellent narration, I still lost myself at certain points. Jean-Baptiste's thoughts would reach a point where they were so dense, so scattered, that I'd find myself struggling to pay attention. There were high points, and low points, but the ending threw me completely off. I listened to it again, just to make sure I didn't miss something important. I'm still confused.

For a very vividly written Paris backdrop, and a character that I enjoyed, I'll give this a two-star rating. The extra star is for Jonathan Aris' wonderful narration. If you have the opportunity to listen to this on audio, I'd say go for it! My quest continues on! ( )
  roses7184 | Feb 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 61 (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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Epigraph
The time will come when the sun will shine only on free men who have no master but their reason. Marquis de Condorcet
Dedication
In memory of my father, Dr Keith Miller, and of my friends, Patrick Warren and George Lachlan Brown.
First words
A young man, young but not very young, sits in an anteroom somewhere, some wing or other, in the Palace of Versailles.
Quotations
He has a notebook with him, a roll of linen tape. When he takes measurements, he asks Jeanne to hold one end of the tape; then, with a steel-tipped pen, a portable inkwell, he writes and sketches in the notebook.... he scratches her replies onto the paper.... She watches how he can make a line thinner or thicker with a little adjustment of the angle of the nib.... He shuts the book, the inkwell, wipes the nib of the pen.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. 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, a fitting task for a modern man of reason. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.

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Haiku summary
How do you remove
A cemetery in Paris?
Bone by bone, it seems.
(passion4reading)

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