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Thursday 24 May 2012

Review: Andrew Miller, Pure

On a long journey, you might finish this 300 page novel at one sitting. I thought I might do so, but the pace and decisiveness of the first two hundred pages does slacken into something less certain as Andrew Miller draw his story to a close.

Paris before the Revolution is one of those places which can be turned into the setting for a fiction with reasonable confidence. A back catalogue of novels and films sets the parameters of verisimilitude. Nothing in Andrew Miller's book struck me as anachronistic or wrong. There is much evocative detail.

The story is a work of imagination constrained by a delimited time and place of action. In 1785, the government decides to clear the overflowing and unhealthy body- and bone-packed cemetery of the Innocents in the centre of Paris. Andrew Miller imagines the year-long work being entrusted to a young engineer and what must have been involved in carrying it out. It is here that there is much credible detail.

Along the way, there is attempted murder, rape, suicide, romance and revolutionary stirrings done with enough conviction and craft to make us care about what happens to whom.

There is much which is macabre and disconcerting, but Miller adopts a brisk - perhaps dandyish - style which carries us above the stench of the graveyard and the charnel house. And with numerous opportunities to give the book a tragic ending, he decides instead to give us a glimpse of such ordinary happiness as human beings can achieve in their journey towards oblivion.

I suppose when reviewing a novel, one is nowadays supposed to end with a decision. So I give you Recommended.

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