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Book 178: Pure by Andrew Miller

Book 178: Pure.
Author: Andrew Miller, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction. 18th Century Paris.
Other Details: Paperback. 342 pages.

Set in pre-Revolutionary France, the novel follows the work of young engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte, who in 1786 is given the task of clearing the over-filled Saints Innocents Cemetery. The cemetery had been closed in 1790 and the decomposing bodies were believed to be polluting the surrounding area. The church of Saints Innocents was also to be demolished.

Miller had been inspired to write the novel after reading a brief account of the project and "was taken by the theatricality. It was done mostly at night, with fires burning to purify the air, and this terrible job was going on right in the middle of this very populous quarter of Paris. And then, of course, the bones were taken across the city in these processions, with chanting priests, to a quarry on the other side of the river." It is one of those small footnotes in history that can prove rich fodder for a novelist.

Miller does a superb job of capturing the sense of decadence and decay of Paris in a subtle way. While the coming Revolution is not commented on there are certain rumblings under the surface of Parisian society that come to Jean-Baptiste's attention though as a very focused and non-political man he remains apart from them.

The cover art was inspired by Francisco Goya's etching 'The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters' using ravens, symbols of death associated with graveyards, rather than bats and owls. It very much sums up the novel. Pure won the Costa Book of the Year in 2011.
Tags: award winner, historical fiction

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