Winner of the 2011 Costa best novel award Andrew Miller's historical novel manages to be full of he richest period detail whilst also having a distinctly modern feel. Set in days just before the French Revolution Jean Baptiste is a young engineer with one small bridge to his name when he is summoned to the Palace of Versailles to be given the strangest of commissions.
For generations the dead of the Las Halles area of Paris have been buried in the cemetery of the church of Les Innocents. The stench of death and decay has come the inhabit the food , the drink and the breath of all who live nearby.
The church has been closed to a congregation for some years and the Minister has decided it is time to act. Jean's job is to remove all traces of Les Innocents and its pits of the dead.
Firstly he is given lodgings in the house of the family Monnard , mother , father, a daughter they hope to marry off and a sullen maid. He soon meets the locals, including the republican organist Armand, who plays at Les Innocents with only the mad clergyman as his audience, the father and daughter who live in the cemetery and know its secrets as well as a local prostitute , for who Jean finds himself repeatedly drawn. He initially keeps the true purpose of his venture secret. When he does come clean the reaction of those around him range from active support and companionship, hostility, confusion and ultimately violence.
He enlists the help of his friend from the mines who recruits a team of Flemish miners to carry out the work. It is the description of this work that really bring the novel alive as layer upon layer of bones are unearthed
As the work progresses more characters emerge each with their own agenda who react in different ways to the unending sorting of the dead. The cold , the heat and the over powering aroma of decay creates a changing in the order as Jean finds his task taking him over.
The painted slogans on the walls that disturb Jean show that what is happening in the cemetery is mirrored in Paris as a whole, only in the end does the symbolism get a tad heavy handed.
Its a strange quirky tale that captures a time and place so well that I was soon hooked and compelled to keep going
You can buy Pure here
On a sep note I promised I'd take my son to see the Hunger Games after he had read and loved the book so I thought I'd give it a go. I won't tell you much about the plot (but anyone who has seen the film Battle Royale will wonder why it hasn't had a name check from the author ) but it is a rollicking good page turner of a read and for once the film does it justice
you can buy the Hunger Games here