The backdrop of the story is a Paris graveyard called Les Innocents. The time period is 1785, just before the French Revolution. Young engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte has been commissioned by the French government to clear the ancient burial ground of its church and mouldering graveyard in the Les Halles area of Paris. The miners Baratte employs to excavate the bones are strange almost faceless creatures and tend to act collectively. But there is one who steps forward and stands out – he is the catalytic Lacoeur whom Baratte has employed as overseer. His relationship with the engineer both previously and consequentially ends in strange tragedy.
Miller‘s writing style is convincingly sensuous and whilst the narrative has enough historical detail to lend authenticity, is never dry and dull. Throughout the book, the smell of the cemetery permeates. The people stink of it. It lingers on their breath, clothes and even their food as Miller’s masterly writing conveys. The author paints his words from shades of grey to blackness, his characters though realistically sketched, still manage to retain an air of mystery. A feeling of change underpins the novel, though I feel that this is somewhat underplayed and the setting itself seems more of a small village – isolated from the real world rather than a throbbing pulsating city, vital angry and aggressive.
The clearing of the ancient bones, the demolition of the church and the political unrest which rumbles underneath the shifting stones all conspire to add intrigue to a rather simple story. Whilst the book holds the reader’s attention in atmosphere and authenticity, there are a lot of blind alleyways which the writer leads the reader up – and then abandons. For example, the graffiti on the wall is never properly explained, nor is the reason for Zigette’s sudden madness. Also the relationship with Heloise I feel, seems to work better when she is a creature of the night (and day) – before she becomes his mistress.
Though the prose is skilful, the characters wonderfully sketched, I had a slight feeling of disappointment upon finishing the novel, – a vague sense of being a bit let down by ‘Pure’. I suppose that I was looking for a conclusion, and there is a sense of the unfinished which frustrated me. However, this book is a good book though, beautifully written, with lots of atmosphere. I would certainly read another of this authors books and I think the book would translate wonderfully to the screen. All in all – an intriguing and interesting read.