Pure (Anglais) Relié – 9 juin 2011
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Descriptions du produit
Revue de presse
Enthralling ... superbly researched, brilliantly narrated and movingly resolved (Observer)
Exquisite inside and out, PURE is a near-faultless thing (Sunday Telegraph)
It draws you in with hallucinatory power (Daily Mail)
Superb (Literary Review)
Présentation de l'éditeur
WINNER OF THE COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD (2011)
A year of bones, of grave-dirt, relentless work. Of mummified corpses and chanting priests.
A year of rape, suicide, sudden death. Of friendship too. Of desire. Of love...
A year unlike any other he has lived.
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 begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.
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Meilleurs commentaires des clients
Is not quite as good as bringing out the nitty gritty, the 'puyngent smells' etc as the press reviews and jacket blurb would have you believe.
But a good novel that keeps you turning the pages and wishing for more.
Malheureusement j'ai pas trop aimé le livre. Traîne trop et sans fin de qualité.
Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
Getting beneath the surface is exactly what Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an engineer from Normandy hoping to make his fame and fortune in Paris, has been tasked to do for his first commission for the government, excavating the vast pits of the cemetery of les Innocents near les Halles market in the centre of the city, and taking down the church along with it. Bodies have been piled into the cemetery for centuries, and the king is concerned about the growing problem of filth and contamination that is emanating from one of the foulest areas in the city. It's a huge and deeply unpleasant task, but it's a necessary purification that needs to be carried out for the good of the city and the working population of the area. That's pretty much a subject of historical record, the bones excavated eventually ending up in the famous catacombs of Paris, and Andrew Miller's fictionalisation of the story follows the progress of the engineer and the relationships he develops with the workers he has employed, the family he boards with and the people he meets in the neighbourhood.
Although there is no shortage of incident in the story, it all arises fairly naturally out of the project to such an extent that it's easy to underestimate the skill with which the author depicts the simmering undercurrent of dissent and revolution that is simmering among the people and looking for an outlet. Even though in his idealistic days Baratte and his colleague would imagine their own utopia, the engineer doesn't realise just how important his purification of les Innocents is in bringing with it the idea of change, making him an unwilling and unwitting figurehead for the revolutionary slogans that are beginning to appear on the walls of the city. None of this is overstated, but it's clear by the end that the author has sown the seeds of the coming revolution of "purification" that will result in more piles of bones, and done so in greater detail and with greater subtlety than you could imagine possible from such a simple story.
These are the historical facts underlying this novel, and Andrew Miller is steeped in the history of that time just before the French Revolution, when the ideas of the Enlightenment were challenging traditions. The clearing of the old cemetery becomes a symbol for the mood of disposing of the past. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, the young engineer who is put in charge of the work, is one of the "moderns"; so is his friend Lecoeur, who comes to do the work at the head of a team of thirty Flemings from the mines at Valenciennes where Baratte had himself once worked and with whom he had at that time spent many hours imagining an Enlightened utopia they called Valenciana. Symbolic, too, is the resistance (in one instance taking a very violent form) they encounter: many of the local have got used to the stench of decay and are opposed to the removal of familiar landmarks; others find this work of "purification" sacrilegious (though Armand de Saint-Méard, the organist of the barely visited church and another "modern", welcomes the change in the full knowledge that he will lose his position - anticipating those clergy who would take part in the early stages of the French Revolution). Anti-royalist and anti-clerical graffiti which are daubed on walls in the neighbourhood drive the context home.
If this seems a rather schematic plan for the book, it is full of people and incidents that flesh it out. Some of the incidents seem to me rather tangential, including Barette's curious love-affaire. The life of 18th century Paris and of 18th century Normandy (where Barette comes from), the state of the roads, the dependence on candle light, the clothes "of the future" which the "moderns" liked to wear, the medical theories of the time (propounded by none other than Dr Guillotin) - all this is brought out vividly. Miller is also throughly familiar with the geography of old Paris - it would have been nice to have had a map on which we could have followed the many streets to which he refers but which no longer exist.
The dialogue is often banal; and I don't feel that this a very organic book. Many actions, including two major acts of violence, do not seem to me to be to arise naturally out of the story - I wondered whether they were based on historical research, which might account for their inclusion. The book engaged my interest less and less towards the end, though there is a set-piece climax in the last few pages.
Despite the unusual and unsavory subject matter, Miller recreates the human side of the story - to make the reader empathize with Baratte, to see how important the job is to him, to show how he longs for acceptance - and even a job as unsavory this one quickly involves the reader in the story and its historical setting. Details about Paris in this pre-revolutionary time stick in the reader's memory: an elephant, somewhere in Versailles, that exists on Burgundy wine; a revolutionary group devoted to the future, that plasters warnings about the church and aristocracy on walls and buildings; the nearly hopeless lives of the miners Baratte recruits to work on this horrific job; and later, their differences in outlook from the masons he hires for additional on-site work.
Throughout the novel, Miller's descriptive details are unforgettable and often symbolic: a priest described as "a big wingless bat in the dusk"; Parisian theatre-goers "fighting their way through the doors like scummed water draining out of a sink"; a man with eyes "like two black nails hammered into a skull; and an crazed old man "nude as a worm," who begins to howl. The coming revolution is foreshadowed through the eyes of Baratte, whose own new suit of clothes, is not completely comfortable since it smacks of another class. The role of Heloise, a prostitute with a good heart and the intellect of a modern woman, shows how indifferent the court is to the resilience and resourcefulness of, not only women, but of the talented and thwarted men of the country. The characters' attitudes toward life, death, God, and the afterlife echo throughout the novel as bodies are disinterred and cleaned for reburial in the catacombs.
Ultimately, Miller succeeds in making this unlikely subject and its unusual characters both engaging and thought-provoking, requiring the reader to think beyond the limitations of most stories which are set so deep in the past. Baratte himself learns during his year, and he reflects the increasing awareness of a growing segment of the population that the life of the court of Versailles has reached the end of the line. When Baratte finishes his final report for the minister, his return to Versailles is filled with striking parallels and contrasts to the details of his arrival. Miller never overplays his conclusion, however, respecting the reader's ability to fill in some of the blanks that make this novel so memorable. An unusual and beautifully written novel which shines new light on some of the elements which can empower the oppressed and lead to revolution. Mary Whipple
The story flows easily and and engages the reader with a spell that grabs him and hold him to the book, like the spell that enveloped the cemetery and the eerie corpses they buried there. How do people fall under spells, the nature of which is ineffable and the only clue identifying the involvement of the mysterious if not supernatural, is gleaned only from the inapproppriate conduct of the victim? It is this feeling that will affect the reader through the entire book, and the last breath from him upon reaching the end of the book will be tinged with pure relief.
At first, it looks like a return: going back to 'doing history' (specifically Paris, 1785). Miller does his research as well as the next person, but it's the sensuous detail, the stuff that illuminates day-to-day living, that impresses and tells, as with all the best historical novels I know of - Norminton's Ship of Fools, Tremain's Restoration, Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White. Miller's phrases are as polished as ever, too. I could go on quoting them, so I'm going to flip my copy open and stab out a sentence at random: after a heavy downpour, a preaching cross-fire has been reduced to 'a heap of smouldering black beams, like the doused wreck of a small cottage'.
I'm going to have to get hold of his other two novels, and soon.