Posted by: billpurdue | November 18, 2012

Andrew Miller’s Costa Award winner

I’m sure that you’ve read books that seem to be rather, shall we say, inconclusive. I’m not sure what to think about Pure by Andrew Miller, but inconclusive is one of the adjectives I would use, along with gruesome, macabre, and odd, but nevertheless I read it the whole way through.

It’s the story of the removal of all the bodies from a large cemetery, including the church, in Paris in the 18th century, the whole operation being organised by Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an engineer, who would rather be building bridges.   The cemetery had become very overcrowded to such an extent that an odour pervaded the cemetery and surrounding streets. Jean-Baptiste finds lodgings nearby with a rather strange family and proceeds to recruit a team of men to carry out the work. His old friend Lecoeur brings a group of miners from the north who set to work unearthing bodies, many of which are now just bones.

 

There are some particularly odd occurrences in the book, which I found difficult to understand. First, after work on the cemetery is well under way, the daughter of the family with whom Jean-Baptiste is lodging attacks and severely injures him. The motive could be that he is overseeing the destruction of a local landmark, or that he has shown no interest in her. Either way the real reason is never really revealed and she is sent away from Paris.

 

Another strange thing is the way Jean-Baptiste ‘acquires’ a female partner. I say acquires because there seems to be little or no romantic element to the way they get together. Héloise has a reputation of being a lady of ill repute, but this is not totally deserved. Jean-Baptiste has only met her on a few previous occasions, but one day he meets her in the street and asks her to live with him. Surprisingly their relationship endures, but there is little of what you would call romance.

 

Several reviewers have pointed out that this novel, set in 1785, is ‘pre-revolutionary’, the French revolution taking place shortly after the time span of the book. There are a number of aspects of the story that point to the fact that Paris is on the edge of big changes. There are the odd characters for one thing, not least being the priest of the church, who, in spite of having no congregation to preach to for the past five or more years, still haunts the building wearing spectacles with blue lenses.

 

The book has won the Costa Novel Award for 2011, so I suppose I should recommend it – especially if you are longing to read something ‘different’!

(incidentally the cemetery, Les Innocents, which is the subject of the book, actually existed at one time)

[Sceptre £8.99 9781444724288]

 

The Killing III….

… is starting this weekend on BBCFour, staring Sofie Gråbøl in her chunky jumper -for the last time. If you enjoyed the first two of this series, then the first one is now out in paperback and the second in the series will be available early next year. The novelisation is by David Hewson after the screenplay by Søren Sveistrup. (To find out why it is the last in the series, have a look at the article in the Independent)

 

 

 

I’m reading…

… and enjoying Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon . More about that next time

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