Book Review: Pure

Pure by Andrew Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've recently joined a book group and this was the first book to read – and I wasn't too hopeful when I read the blurb. For a start it is set in France just before the Revolution – and I have long believed myself not to be a fan of historical fiction; I also didn't think I had any interest in France! And then there was the plot itself – a young engineer is sent to clear the bodies from a cemetery in the middle of Paris and move them a new site. Hmmm. Not very exciting, I thought ..

And yes, Pure isn't an exciting book, but in its own quiet measured way it is a page turner. It's a book where the sub plot sometimes seems secondary to the lives of the characters, but even then there are as many questions raised as answers given. Every character seems to have something mysterious or undefined about them and while in some ways I was left wanting more I have a feeling that, by its very vagueness, these characters will remain with me longer than if they had been neatly whole. The business of clearing the bodies was told simply and beautifully and I was in awe of the respect shown by the crew to the task. And for me the title refers to the contrast between the purification of the cemetery site against the corruption that seems to affect everyone working on the project, from the engineer who was ordered to hide his friend's body, against his better wishes, to the miners who were complicit in the final destruction of the site.

There were a few odd moments. For example, Ziguerette's moment of madness seemed to come out of the blue, with no prior warning; the mysterious graffiti artists seemed to add little to the plot and the ending was very bizarre. However, overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be interested in reading more by Andrew Millar. I am also now viewing historical literature with fresh eyes and won't be so resistant to reading it in future!

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