Synopsis: 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.
Author: Andrew Miller
From the get-go you can tell Miller is a masterful historic writer, he achieves the rarely-achieved level of historic detail that is required to see and, in this case, smell the atmosphere without coming across as too didactic. Miller is almost poetic in the soft touch he bestows upon the reader.
But what makes this novel exceptional is also what irked me about it the most. I found the prose too soft at times – I wanted grisly and gruesome, where I got soft and poetic. I wanted to know more about the political side of things, especially given the graffiti that takes place. I wanted to know more about Ziguette? Heloisse? Leceur? Armand? There was simply not enough about anyone or anything for me to be able to grab on to. It feels as if Miller took the concept of ‘leaving one hanging’ and ran a little too far with it.
Pure is beautifully written with intriguing sub-plots, many of which could easily work as novels in themselves. The sum of the parts, albeit exquisite in themselves, became oddly inconsequential when combined.
Unless bullied into it, I would probably hesitate before reading any more of Miller’s work. Although beautifully written, his style just doesn’t work for me.