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Pure Paperback – May 29, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


'One of the most brilliant aspects of Miller's writing is his ability to question unobtrusively, through style alone, sentimentality about both life under the Bourbons and the creative destruction of revolution ... he has an instinctive knack for casting bright similes, never overextended, that ripple suggestively ... The writing throughout is crystalline, uncontrived, striking and intelligent. You could call it pure.' — Jonathan Beckman, Literary Review

'Every so often a historical novel comes along that is so natural, so far from pastiche, so modern, that it thrills and expands the mind. PURE is one ... Miller's newly minted sentences are arresting, often unsettling and always thought-provoking. Exquisite inside and out, PURE is a near-faultless thing: detailed, symbolic and richly evocative of a time, place and man in dangerous flux. It is brilliance distilled, with very few impurities.' — Holly Kyte, Telegraph

'Quietly powerful, consistently surprising, PURE is a fine addition to substantial body of work ... pre-revolutionary Paris is evoked in pungent detail ... By concentrating on the bit players and byways of history, Miller conjures up an eerily tangible vanished world.' — Suzi Feay, Financial Times

'Murder, rape, seduction and madness impel this elegant novel ... Within this physical and political decay, Miller couches the heart of the matter: how to live one's life with personal integrity, with a purity not so much morally unblemished as unalloyed with the fads and opinions of society ... Miller populates Baratte's quest for equanimity with lush and tart characters, seductively fleshed out, who collectively help to deliver the bittersweet resolution of his professional and personal travails.' — James Urquhart, Independent

'Very atmospheric... Although the theme may sound macabre, Miller's eloquent novel overflows with vitality and colour. It is packed with personal and physical details that evoke 18th-century Paris with startling immediacy. Above all he brings off that difficult trick of making the reader care about an unsymapthetic character. If you enjoyed Patrick Suskind's Perfume, you'll love this.' — Daily Express

'It is an audacious novelist who can so knowingly prefigure the symbolism at the heart of his own work without threatening the success of the entire enterprise. It is fortunate, then, that Miller is a writer of subtlety and skill...Unlike many parables, however, PURE is neither laboured nor leaden. Miller writes like a poet, with a deceptive simplicity - his sentences and images are intense distillations, conjuring the fleeting details of existence with clarity. He is also a very humane writer, whose philosophy is tempered always with an understanding of the flaws and failings of ordinary people...Pure defies the ordinary conventions of storytelling, slipping dream-like between lucidity and a kind of abstracted elusiveness... As Miller proves with this dazzling novel, it is not certainty we need but courage' — Clare Clark, Guardian

'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. Expect this on the Booker longlist, at the very least' — The Times

'This is a tale about "the beauty and mystery of what is most ordinary"... Miller lingers up close on details: sour breath, decaying objects, pretty clothes, flames, smells, eyelashes... He is also alive to the dramatic possibilities offered by late-18th-century Paris, a fetid and intoxicating city on the brink of revolution... Miller intimately and pacily imagines how it might have felt to witness it.' — Daily Telegraph

'the book pulls off an ambitious project: to evoke a complex historical period through a tissue of deftly selected details.' — Sunday Times, Culture

'almost dreamlike, a realistic fantasy, a violent fairytale for adults' — Brian Lynch, Irish Times

'enthralling...superbly researched, brilliantly narrated and movingly resolved.' — Robert McCrum, The Observer

About the Author

Andrew Miller’s first novel, Ingenious Pain, won the James Tate Memorial Prize for Fiction. He has since written five novels including Casanova and Oxygen, which was a finalist for the Whitbread Award and the Booker Prize in 2001. He lives in Somerset England.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 331 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions; Reprint edition (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781609450670
  • ISBN-13: 978-1609450670
  • ASIN: 1609450671
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #605,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
On the surface, Pure seems like a straightforward historical fiction. Set in Paris in the year 1785, in the years just preceding the French Revolution, there is however evidently something more significant going on beneath the surface.

Getting beneath the surface is exactly what Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an engineer from Normandy hoping to make his fame and fortune in Paris, has been tasked to do for his first commission for the government, excavating the vast pits of the cemetery of les Innocents near les Halles market in the centre of the city, and taking down the church along with it. Bodies have been piled into the cemetery for centuries, and the king is concerned about the growing problem of filth and contamination that is emanating from one of the foulest areas in the city. It's a huge and deeply unpleasant task, but it's a necessary purification that needs to be carried out for the good of the city and the working population of the area. That's pretty much a subject of historical record, the bones excavated eventually ending up in the famous catacombs of Paris, and Andrew Miller's fictionalisation of the story follows the progress of the engineer and the relationships he develops with the workers he has employed, the family he boards with and the people he meets in the neighbourhood.

Although there is no shortage of incident in the story, it all arises fairly naturally out of the project to such an extent that it's easy to underestimate the skill with which the author depicts the simmering undercurrent of dissent and revolution that is simmering among the people and looking for an outlet.
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Format: Kindle Edition
In 1780 the huge ancient cemetery next to the Church of Les Innocents in Paris (today it is the area of Les Halles) was so full that the authorities said there were to be no more burials. The stench of decay was so pervasive that in 1786 the French government ordered the exhumation of the cemetery - the bones to be reburied in what is now known as the Catacombs near Montparnasse, and was then known as the quarry at the Porte d'Enfer. The church, the tombs in the crypts and the charnel house were also to be demolished. The area was then to be turned into a market place.

These are the historical facts underlying this novel, and Andrew Miller is steeped in the history of that time just before the French Revolution, when the ideas of the Enlightenment were challenging traditions. The clearing of the old cemetery becomes a symbol for the mood of disposing of the past. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, the young engineer who is put in charge of the work, is one of the "moderns"; so is his friend Lecoeur, who comes to do the work at the head of a team of thirty Flemings from the mines at Valenciennes where Baratte had himself once worked and with whom he had at that time spent many hours imagining an Enlightened utopia they called Valenciana. Symbolic, too, is the resistance (in one instance taking a very violent form) they encounter: many of the local have got used to the stench of decay and are opposed to the removal of familiar landmarks; others find this work of "purification" sacrilegious (though Armand de Saint-Méard, the organist of the barely visited church and another "modern", welcomes the change in the full knowledge that he will lose his position - anticipating those clergy who would take part in the early stages of the French Revolution).
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Format: Paperback
(4.5 stars) In pristine sentences and uncompromising descriptions, used with great irony, Andrew Miller tells of a young engineer from rural France in 1785 whose job is to empty the overflowing cemetery at the Church of the Innocents in central Paris and rebury all the bones in the catacombs, for sanitary reasons. Set in 1785, just four years before the French Revolution, Miller's main character, Jean-Baptiste Baratte, supervises the emptying of over twenty burial pits located within a small, enclosed area. The work is "both delicate and gross," as the entire neighborhood around the cemetery is putrid after the cemetery's long use (and, more recently, the interment of fifty thousand people in less than a month in mass graves during a plague). The stench permeates everything - buildings, food, and ultimately people, and Baratte has only one year to make it "pure."

Despite the unusual and unsavory subject matter, Miller recreates the human side of the story - to make the reader empathize with Baratte, to see how important the job is to him, to show how he longs for acceptance - and even a job as unsavory this one quickly involves the reader in the story and its historical setting. Details about Paris in this pre-revolutionary time stick in the reader's memory: an elephant, somewhere in Versailles, that exists on Burgundy wine; a revolutionary group devoted to the future, that plasters warnings about the church and aristocracy on walls and buildings; the nearly hopeless lives of the miners Baratte recruits to work on this horrific job; and later, their differences in outlook from the masons he hires for additional on-site work.
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