Three things dominate my thoughts on this book.
First is the topic itself. I have never read a novel about the dismantling of a cemetery and church before. Miller expresses the impurity of the polluted city, the rancid conditions the people live in as well as the laborious task of removing the corpses.
Based in the era of the intellectual movement in the eighteenth century, known as the Enlightenment, there are hints of this when the central character buys a pistachio coloured suit in a shallow attempt to become what he believes he should be, now that he is in Paris and heading up such an important job. There is an indication of the Revolution to come with subtle clues such as the graffiti on the cemetery wall. All done with a sweeping layer of discrete detail.
The second thing is Miller's writing style. It is effortlessly poetic with imagery that is effective without straining to be so. The story is told in a misty, light and almost floaty way. The present tense works well here although I feel that this tense is becoming quite trendy (perhaps because I have just finished reading Hilary Mantel - I don't know for sure). The tale is not as gruesome as it could be, given the circumstances, but there is enough detail to portray the cemetery and task in hand to make it sufficiently unpleasant. The descriptions are applied to all five senses so that at times I felt as if I could taste the rot. There is clever use of symbolism particularly with metaphors of light and dark: key to the themes of the Enlightenment.
The third point that occurs to me is this: why was Pure not short-listed for the Booker prize? It is creative, distinctive and wholly original as well as being exceptionally well-written. I suppose that Miller's name will appear on the list one day, given his talent.
WINNER OF THE COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD (2011)
Published by Sceptre on 9 June 2011