Thursday 9 May 2013

Pure by Andrew Miller

I'm trying to work out what I think and feel about this book.

I've been left feeling somewhat perplexed - what was the purpose? What was pure? Why were we left with the elephant in the room?

I subconsciously picked this book up from my TBR pile because I needed the title to weave some magic. I wanted to be purified by this story.

Instead I was submerged into a world of death and decay. Putrid was the word that stayed with the whole time I read this book (and as I think about it again now!) - certainly not pure!

Murky, chaotic, dark, unsettling images ran through my mind.
The pits full of decomposing bones, Jean-Baptiste's head wound, the procession of bones to their new resting place, Dr Guillotin's fascination with the mummified Charlotte.

The smells caused me to wrinkle my nose in disgust - the pit full of decomposing bones, the residents bad breath, the market stall selling cheese the old priests lair.

Reading this book was such a visceral experience that I didn't have time to think "but what is it about" until I got to the elephant at the end.

I still don't know "why the elephant" and I may never understand what made Ziguette attempt to kill the engineer or why Lecoeur suddenly went mad or why Jean-Baptiste had so little control of events.

But the historical stuff was fascinating. The streets of old Paris, the markets, the build up to the Revolution, the walk through Versailles, the mines of Valenciennes, the destruction of the cemetery, the politics and socio-economic observations.

Maybe, like me, Andrew Miller and Jean-Baptiste were looking for 'pure' too. And all we need to do is crawl through some more muck to get there!


  1. This book was so good at evoking the atmosphere of decay that every time I picked it up, I felt my skin was crawling. My take on it was that it was about the corruption at the heart of French life pre revolution. But could be completely off the mark ....


    1. Yes just writing this reply makes my nose crinkle in remembered disgust at the smells! I guess the elephant could be a symbol of the decadence and wastefulness of that time.

  2. Hi Brona,
    I just posted my review of Pure and remembered the link you left on my blog to come and read yours.

    I had a similar reaction to the book; there were so many directions the story could have taken - the beast said to live in the charnels of the place, the man with the violet eyes, the corpses of the two young girls...
    As for the name of the book, it is said at one point in the story that the place (les Innocents) is to be made "pure" again by removing all the bones and raising the church to the ground.

    I really liked the story and the writing but I wish there was more to it.

  3. Yes to all of the above Delia, yet at the same time, many parts of this book has stayed with me - it was such an intense experience.


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