by Andrew Miller
Pre-revolution Paris is the setting for this gripping, Costa-winning novel from Andrew Miller.
The story begins with Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a serious young engineer, idealistic, soberly dressed, from Bellême in Normandy waiting in an ante-room in “some wing or other” of the Palace of Versailles – that most decadent of structures symbolic of a dwindling, profligate regime. It transpires that the interview is to commission Jean-Baptiste to oversee the removal of thousands of remains from the fetid cemetery of les Innocents in the seedy, dilapidated les Halles area of Paris. No mean feat and, of course, such a sensitive undertaking has to be done discreetly – an undertaking that drives Baratte to near madness.
Baratte calls upon the services of an old friend, Lecour, with whom he used to work at the mines in the north, and with whom he used to plan for a utopian future. What ensues is a brilliant account of Baratte’s seduction by the city, his mental decline, his near death and his falling in love. The hint of revolution in the air is never far away – and this is the crux of the novel – the disposal of the old, the purification of the city, the cemetery a metaphor for all that is rotten in pre-revolution France.
This is a wonderfully evocative, literary historical novel, populated with a host of assorted characters and filled with imagination, tenderness and compassion as well as extreme violence and destruction. It feels epic in scale because Miller packs so much in to every page. A great book from a truly gifted writer.
Read our interview with Andrew Miller.
Hear The Bookshop Band's great song inspired by PURE