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3.58  ·  Rating details ·  8,653 ratings  ·  1,070 reviews
Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. Into their midst comes Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, provincial engineer charged by the king with demolishing it.

At first Baratte sees this as a chance to clear the burden of history, a fitting task for a modern man of reason. But before long, he b
Hardcover, 346 pages
Published January 5th 2012 by Sceptre (first published 2011)
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Ana Thomaz In the early days of the novel, verisimilitude was a great virtue. Contrary to the post-modern, wherein authors strive to highlight the fictionality o…moreIn the early days of the novel, verisimilitude was a great virtue. Contrary to the post-modern, wherein authors strive to highlight the fictionality of the work, early novels strove to highlight the idea that the story was real. To create this effect, they elided names to make it seem as if real people were at issue, people who would not want to be named! (less)

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Average rating 3.58  · 
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 ·  8,653 ratings  ·  1,070 reviews

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Feb 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
I ended up feeling a bit let down by Pure. Miller is a luscious writer -- never a word wrong as he sketches a 1785 Paris that is about to boil over (but hasn't yet). He achieves a masterful balance between enough historical detail so that you can see, taste, and (unfortunately) smell the book's setting without ever seeming didactic or overly lecturing (ahem, Amitav Ghosh -- who I read simultaneously with this). Indeed, the prose is so graceful that the whole book has a sensuous feel despite the ...more
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My second Andrew Miller novel in succession and both have been five star reads. Jean-Baptiste Baratte is an aspiring engineer from the provinces who is commissioned to remove a large pestilent cemetery and church in a poor district of Paris. It soon becomes clear he is viewed as little more than a lackey by the faceless powers of the ruling class. Pure is a very astute and convincing depiction of the psychology of Paris in the years before the terror arrived. The cemetery and church acts as a mi ...more
Pure, Andrew Miller’s sixth novel, takes place in 1785, in Paris, as Normandy engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte is summoned to the Palace of Versailles. There, Baratte, who is a graduate of the Ecole Royale des Ponts et Chaussées, is commissioned by the State to demolish the ancient cemetery beneath the church of “Les Innocents” in central Paris, and dispose of the thousands of bodies buried there.

The cemetery is far too close to the famous markets of Les Halles. The many bodies, whose fat refuses
Jan 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with a taste for skulls
Recommended to Mark by: Poole bookclub God bless 'em
But what is the significance of the elephant; I don't understand about the elephant.

At one point, one of the characters says 'That is a metaphor', another responds 'A metaphor? Where did you go to school ?'

And the first speaker answers 'Nogent-le-Rotrou'.

This little dialogue sums up part of my difficulties with this book. Firstly Andrew Miller absolutely crams this novel to the brim with metaphor. Secondly some of the dialogue seems too anachronistic and thirdly , and this is obviously my probl
Peter Boyle
Mar 10, 2019 rated it liked it
The year is 1785, and Jean-Baptiste Baratte is a young engineer from Normandy, summoned to Versailles. He hopes that his mission will be to construct some kind of bridge or impressive new building in the French capital. Instead he is told to empty the abandoned cemetery of Les Innocents, a putrid pit of mass graves, and to demolish the adjoining church. Taking up residence in the nearby guesthouse of the Monnard family, he goes about planning the job at hand and hiring the workers he needs. He m ...more
The stink of the Innocents is permeating the soil, the water, and the air of Paris. The rotting remains of the overstuffed cemetery of les Innocents are leaching into the food and even the very skin and breath of the living inhabitants of the surrounding city. The vast yard of bones and soupy remains is eroding into their cellars. So the King's minister has hired on an engineer from Normandy to put together a crew that will dig up and relocate the corpses to the Catacombs, then destroy the cemet ...more
lucky little cat
I could not put this book down. It made me ignore family members without even meaning to. Way more than usual, even. :D

What's a little danse macabre between friends?

Pure focuses on Jean-Baptiste, a fledgling late-18th-century engineer whose first commission is an impossible one: to efficiently empty the oldest cemetery in Paris and demolish the cemetery's cathedral. Author Andrew Miller includes something for everyone in this good-natured tale. Engineer Jean-Baptiste is a country mouse who gets
Feb 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
What a disappointment! Miller could have done so much more with this concept (the destruction of Les Innocents in Paris). Unfortunately, the novel is too short; atrocious under development of character, a lack of any cultivated plot and a dismal amount of the ins and outs of the mechanics of such a project (demolition of a church, exhumation of thousands of corpses etc) left me thinking there really wasn't much depth to the novel.

There is much potential in this novel, Miller's use of a wide rang
It was the subject matter that attracted me to this book, as it seemed so unusual, based on an actual event, the clearing of Les Innocents graveyard in Paris which had become what we would refer to nowadays as a health hazard.
This gruesome task is undertaken by a young engineer who is commissioned to complete the task in a year.
What follows is the dark but compelling story of how this work was done, and it's effects on those involved.

There are many unusual and interesting characters, suicide, ra
Even though the number of historical fiction books rendering the time of the French Revolution appears endless; Andrew Miller takes a different approach in “Pure”. Following Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an engineer contracted to “get rid of” Les Innocents (a cemetery), the novel is rich with symbolism not necessarily found in all Revolutionary novels.

As one can probably deduce from the mere summary above; “Pure” is not a typical historical fiction narrative. Rather, Miller’s novel is a canopy of symb
Apr 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
I had such high hopes for this book having read the reviews, seen the press coverage and of course the fact that it won the Costa book of year award. Unfortunately I was left sorely dissapointed. The novel just never seemed to progress or have any real spark about it. I finished the book feeling that the plot was highly simplistic and the events that punctuated the story never developed. The charecters were flat and I kept reading waiting for something to happen and for the story to get going; w ...more
Nov 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book, but was left a little unsatisfied. I love the way Miller writes, and this is a soft touch on the pre-revolutionary Paris, only tangentially touching on the politics - I wanted it to be more grisly and gruesome, considering Baratte is tasked with moving the contents of the cemetery of les Innocents, which at the time was overflowing into people's cellars. I wanted more politics and more of an insight into the perspectives at Versailles and those of the common people. I wanted ...more
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
The story of Les Innocents church and the graveyard. Paris 1785, just before the Revolution, and Jean-Baptiste is given the unenviable task of emptying the graves of Les Innocents and taking the church apart. It’s a fantastic book that really captures the atmosphere of Paris extremely well. The story is great, if somewhat unsavoury at times, but what really fascinated me was the metaphors in the book... I’m sure the book could be studied in depth. I read this as a book club read and someone said ...more
I finished the audiobook version, narrated by Jonathan Aris, two days ago. I had to in fact listen to the ending three times; the details were confusing - which kind of annoyed me! I do think I understand the message that was being imparted by the final scene. Anyway, what I most enjoyed about this book was its imagery. You feel as though you are in Paris. The Parisians are acting like Parisians. You perceive the streets, the sounds and sights and smells. Well, not really the smells, because the ...more
Maya Panika
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A brilliantly written fiction, set against the removal of Les Innocents cemetery in Paris in the years immediately preceding the French Revolution.

When the story begins, Jean-Baptiste Baratte is a rather staid young man. Freshly arrived from his Normandy home and ambitious to advance his engineering career, he is given the job of clearing Les Innocents cemetery, a place literally over-flowing with the dead, fouling the food, tainting the breath of those who share its air.

It's a surprisingly comp
Pure. What a not so sweet smelling little charmer you are. A real treasure that I am pleased to have finally read after a couple years of some less than graceful evasive manoeuvres. It has played a good game this Pure. Putting itself under my nose at every turn. Gawping at me from the shelf at my library as I reach for a different book. On a friends currently reading pile. In recommended reading lists. Flashing your fine cover in blue or in green. You know I love that cover. Have told you over ...more
Guy Portman
Sep 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Paris’s oldest cemetery, Les Innocents, is overflowing, the city’s deceased having been piled in there for years, resulting in the surrounding area having been permanently permeated by a fetid aroma. The site is a growing concern to the authorities and a potential hazard to the health of the local population.

The prospect of salvation comes with the arrival of a young, energetic, provincial engineer by the name of Jean-Baptiste Baratte, commissioned by the king to clear the cemetery. The story f
Nov 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoy books like this one, ones that focus not on shoving obstacles and enemies into the path of the plot, but instead work to give the main character friendship, fortune, and even love despite their misfortunes. There's just something satisfying in seeing characters work effectively with one another, together dealing with all that life throws at them. In other words, I'm a fan of authors who don't make all their characters insufferable prats just because they can. It's easy to get weary of th ...more
Set in Paris before the start of the French Revolution, the description made the scenes come to life from page 1. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an engineer, is set the task to clean a Parisian town reeking with death. Nearby towns have been complaining of the stench; a cemetery, les Innocents, has 50 000 corpses dumped from a plague. Not an easy job but one he accepts from a minister of the King.
I left this book to the end expecting to struggle with it, this is my second attempt the first time (years
Claire Fuller
Miller does an excellent job of bringing pre-revolution Paris to life. Jean-Baptiste Baratte is tasked with digging up and disposing of the bodies in a Parisian churchyard which is so full, the air around it is poisoned and the dead are bursting into the cellars of the surrounding houses. Along the way we meet many people including Baratte's friends, landlords, and lover. The book is crammed full of incident, metaphor and symbolism and bustles along like the overfull streets, the only duff note ...more
Oct 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, allegory, france
I certainly appreciated the exquisite writing; every word and image was chosen with care and perfection, like a necklace of perfect pearls, with each of the incidents and characters representing a pearl on that necklace. I observed this through the whole novel, but by somewhere in Part III everything began to fall apart. It felt like the author had made his point and was just filling in events, to rush to a finish. The book ended in a mirror image of its beginning. The book made me uneasy and t ...more
Dec 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is a passage in Pure that sums up the sly, grim beauty and horror of this extraordinary novel. It is a rather intimate scene where our Great Engineer -- tasked with removing the stain of the les Innocents cemetery, which is blotting the landscape of a Paris neighbourhood -- is faced with the shortcomings of the human body itself:

He gets his breeches down (loses a button in his haste) and lets the muck fly out of him, hears it slap the surface of the muck already in the hole. A pause: the b
James Rye
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. The author created a vulnerable protagonist who succeeds against the opposition and distractions. I found the relentless progress through careful and difficult work inspiring. The engineer grows through the pages and the quality of writing and detailed observation of his inner struggle endeared him to me. Many of us scratch fearfully at closed doors. I was reminded of Camus, both in theme of freedom through action and love, and through the use of extended allegory.
Nancy Oakes
more about this novel shortly.

for now: I had no expectations going into this book and was quite happy with what came out of it. While I didn't find it breathtaking, it clearly shows how what will happen in 1789 was already in the works in 1785, so it more than made me a happy reader.

more soon.
Patricia Bracewell
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Surely one of the goals of a writer of historical fiction is to bring the past to life for the reader, to immerse him or her in the images, scents, tastes, beliefs and inhabitants of another time. Miller does an excellent job of this. Whenever I picked up the book and started reading I was immediately pulled into 18th century Paris, particularly the streets around the Cemetery of Les Innocents and the decay emanating from rotting bodies buried there. There isn't much that is pretty in this book, ...more
JJ Marsh
May 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I wouldn’t have chosen this from the shelf. The premise is not something I thought I’d enjoy and I don’t often seek out historical fiction. But a friend passed it on, saying how much she’d loved it. It won the 2011 Costa Novel Award. So I gave it a try. The cover says ‘Dazzling’, Irresistibly compelling’, ‘Gripping’ and ‘Superb’. And it is.

It also beautifully written. Jean-Baptiste Baratte is summoned from the quiet town of Bellême to Paris, to complete a rather unusual task. He is to clear the
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Jean-Baptiste Baratte is a modern man, well-versed in Voltaire and ready to leave his peasant upbringing behind. Eager to display his engineering talents, he meets the minister at Versailles to receive his first significant appointment. Confident, composed, although a bit cocky, he really can’t foresee any challenge his enlightened education can’t overcome.

But, all his plans of illustrious success are somewhat hampered by the assignment he receives, one that is couched in a veiled threat. His j
Kate Vane
Mar 30, 2013 rated it liked it
I was enchanted by this book at the beginning. It is beautifully written and immediately creates a world that is both haunting and convincing.

In pre-revolutionary France, a young engineer from the provinces, eager to impress, is given the task of clearing a cemetery in the centre of Paris. The engineer’s work throws him into a world of colourful characters – a woman who exchanges sexual favours for books, a gang of foundlings turned agitators, a priest sent mad by torture. The engineer has to g
Jun 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Set in the years just preceding the French Revolution. Pure is a story about a young Engineer Jean –Baptiste given the unenviable task of clearing the overrun, collapsing and foul smelling cemetery of l'Innocents and demolishing the adjacent church. This clearance is an historical fact with the bones being stored in the Catacombs of Paris.
This is not just an historical account of the cemetery clearing; it also alludes to the underlying of chaos and decay of the traditional way of life and the ne
I saw this book several years ago in a bookstore at Leiden Central station. At the time I didn't buy it (I can't remember why, but probably because of money), but it kept popping up in my mind every now and again, and so I finally decided to buy it after all.
The only thing I regret is that I didn't read this book sooner. I was blown away by it. The style is deceptively simple, but there's such an eloquence to this book! It flows very well. The characters, too, are all memorable and interesting,
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PureFit Keto 1 2 Nov 23, 2018 09:07PM  
What's the Name o...: SOLVED. 18th century France: architect working on a church [s] 13 501 Nov 13, 2018 10:13PM  
What does the ending mean?!!! (spoiler alert) 9 293 Aug 05, 2013 08:33AM  

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Andrew Miller was born in Bristol in 1960. He has lived in Spain, Japan, Ireland and France, and currently lives in Somerset. His first novel, INGENIOUS PAIN, was published by Sceptre in 1997 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Grinzane Cavour prize in Italy. His second novel, CASANOVA, was published in 1998, followed by OX ...more

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