Book Review: Pure by Andrew Miller

I’m deep in period drama mode at the moment, but before I skipped from Dickens to Gaskell I needed a break from the Classics but still craved a protragonist in a bonnet or breeches.

Set in pre-revolutionary Paris but written by a 21st century hand, Pure proved the perfect historical palette cleanser. The Costa Prize winning novel tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Barratte, a young engineer sent to Paris from rural Normandy to oversee the removal of bones from the crumbling graveyard and church of Les Innocents as Paris attempts to clear away its dead – and with it its past.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Miller’s modern and minalmalist prose, his 18th century Paris is as vivid as Dicken’s London. Miller doesn’t try and take us back in time with language of the past, but instead brings it to life with unfussy yet sharp observations – you can almost smell the rotting remains and taste of the death-laced food served to Barratte in his lodgings at the Monnards. The book races along – in fact, if I had to pick a fault I’d say there was almost too much drama, including some pretty violent and disturbing scenes. But it was Barratte’s internal struggles that play out nicely against the background of the graveyard works and the rumblings of revolution that kept me gripped to the end.

Suzanne Elliott