Pure is the sixth novel by English author, Andrew Miller, released on 9 June 2011 through Sceptre.[1] The novel received universal acclaim and won the Costa Book Award 2011 for best novel.[2][3][4] In an article for The Guardian, author Rose Tremain identified the novel as one of her two "Books of the Year 2011".[5]

File:Andrew Miller - Pure.jpg
First edition
Author(s)Andrew Miller
Genre(s)Fictional prose
Publication date9 June 2011 (2011-06-09)
Media typePrint
OCLC Number729332720
Preceded byOne Morning Like a Bird (2008)


The novel centres around a young engineer named Jean-Baptiste Baratte, who is tasked with the removal of the Les Innocents cemetery from the centre of Paris in 1786 (the Place Joachim-du-Bellay now occupies the area) and the removal of its church. Baratte is an engineer with a single bridge, built in his small home-town, comprising his entire career and as such is somewhat surprised by his appointment; he does, however, endeavour to complete his task. The cemetery has been in use for many years but has recently started to overflow into the neighbouring houses and the entire area is permeated with a foul smell, turning fresh produce rotten in far shorter times than natural and tainting the breath of those who live there. Baratte finds that he has both friends and enemies in the area – the cemetery is both loved and hated by the people of the district – and that things might not appear to be as simple as he first imagined. He befriends the church's flamboyant organist named Armand, recruits his old colleague Lecour to assist with the excavation, is monitored by the infamous Guillotin and falls in love with Heloïse, widely known in the area as a whore.


  • Jean-Baptiste Baratte – the protaganist of the novel; engineering graduate of the École des Ponts et Chaussées and overseer of the project; originally from Normandy.
  • Armand – the church's flamboyant organist and close friend to Baratte, with links to "the party of the future".
  • Héloïse Goddard – an Austrian prostitute who specialises in indulging the peculiar perversions of her clients and also Baratte's love interest.
  • Lecoeur – Baratte's old friend brought in as the foreman to the miners undertaking the excavation.
  • Ziguette Monnard – Barrate's landlord's daughter who attacks Baratte in the middle of the night in opposition to his work.
  • Marie – maid to the Monnard's who spies on Baratte sleeping during the night.
  • Jeanne – 14-year-old granddaughter to the church's sexton.
  • Dr Guillotin – a doctor who is observing the progress of the excavation for research purposes.
  • Père Colbert – the church's mad priest.


The cover, created by Royston Knipe, was based on Francisco Goya's etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters; with Baratte in his pistachio green silk Charvet suit replacing the recumbent Goya.[6]


Amid all this gloom glows the writing, like a new penny in the dirt. Miller's newly minted sentences – from the doctor's darkly comic quips to descriptions of eyes as "two black nails hammered into a skull", or coffins opened "like oysters" – are arresting, often unsettling and always thought provoking.

Holly Kyte, The Daily Telegraph[6]

The novel received almost universal praise, with reviewers praising Miller's approach to the subject, his vividly rendered characters and setting and his eloquent prose.

In a review for The Independent, James Urquhart found the novel to be "richly textured" and that it had "energetic, acutely observed characters"; stating "Miller populates Baratte's quest for equanimity with these lush and tart characters, seductively fleshed out, who collectively help to deliver the bittersweet resolution of Baratte's professional and personal travails".[7] Clare Clark, writing for The Guardian, found that "Miller is a writer of subtlety and skill" and stated that she found the novel to be much like a parable, stating that "Unlike many parables, however, Pure is neither laboured nor leaden. Miller writes like a poet, with a deceptive simplicity – his sentences and images are intense distillations, conjuring the fleeting details of existence with clarity". Clark goes on to say that "Pure defies the ordinary conventions of storytelling, slipping dream-like between lucidity and a kind of abstracted elusiveness. The characters are often opaque. The narrative lacks dramatic structure, unfolding in the present tense much as life does, without clear shape or climax" and found that "The result is a book that is unsettling and, ultimately, optimistic".[8] The Australian's Jennifer Levasseur found Pure to be "Well-executed and inventive", stating that she found the plot "Historically convincing, immediately engaging and intellectually stimulating". She went on to state, of Miller himself: "Miller is the calibre of writer who deserves to be followed regardless of topic, time period or setting because of his astonishing dexterity with language, his piercing observations and his ability to combine rollicking storytelling with depth of character".[9]

Novellist Brian Lynch, writing for the Irish Independent found "The story in Pure is simple, almost dreamlike, a realistic fantasy, a violent fairy tale for adults", stating "At its best Pure shimmers".[10] The novel received two reviews from The Daily Telegraph. Freya Johnston found that "Miller lingers up close on details: sour breath, decaying objects, pretty clothes, flames, smells, eyelashes. He is a close observer of cats" and stated, of Baratte's project as a whole, "Miller intimately and pacily imagines how it might have felt to witness it".[11] Holly Kyte found Pure to be "irresistibly compelling" and "Exquisite inside and out". She stated that "Every so often a historical novel comes along that is so natural, so far from pastiche, so modern, that it thrills and expands the mind" and that she found that "Pure is a near-faultless thing: detailed, symbolic and richly evocative of a time, place and man in dangerous flux. It is brilliance distilled, with very few impurities".[6] Suzi Feay, for the Financial Times, stated "Quietly powerful, consistently surprising, Pure is a fine addition to a substantial body of work" and also noted that "Miller's portraits of women and the poor are thoughtful and subtle".[12] Writing for the Daily Express Vanessa Berridge found the novel to be "very atmospheric, if not to say positively creepy at times" and stated that "Miller's eloquent novel overflows with vitality and colour. It is packed with personal and physical details that evoke 18th-century Paris with startling immediacy".[13] Reviewing for the Daily Mail Clare Colvin stated that the novel "draws you in with hallucinatory power" and that she found that "Miller evokes the underside of Parisian society with assured, vivid detail so that images remain in your mind long after you reach the last page. This is historical fiction with imaginative style".[14]

Above all, pre-revolutionary Paris is evoked in pungent detail, from its fragrant bread and reeking piss-pots to the texture of clothing, the grimness of medical procedure and the myriad colours of excavated bone. By concentrating on the bit players and byways of history, Miller conjures up an eerily tangible vanished world.

Suzi Feay, The Financial Times[12]

In a review for The Observer, Leo Robson found the novel to be somewhat underwhelming, stating that "It is disappointing, given the vitality of the novel's setting and set-up, that Miller fails to achieve corresponding dynamism in the development of plot and character", adding that "as a prose writer, Miller appears averse to taking risks, which means no pratfalls – but no glory either". He found the "engineer's progress and his setbacks are narrated in a patient, tight-lipped present tense, and just as the novel rarely concerns itself with anything that doesn't impinge on the destruction of Les Innocents, so it rarely deviates from its obsessive regime of description and dialogue". He did somewhat temper this, however, stating that "It is one of the historical novel's advantages over the topical or journalistic novel that the benchmark is plausibility rather than verifiable authenticity. Success in this effort requires a capacity for immersion and a degree of imagination, and whatever his shortcomings as a prose writer and a storyteller, Andrew Miller is endowed with both".[15]


  1. ^ "Pure (Book, 2011)". WorldCat.org. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
  2. ^ "Costa Book Awards 2011 shortlist: Julian Barnes nominated again". Telegraph. 16 November 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  3. ^ Battersby, Eileen (4 January 2012). "'Pure' delight for Miller as Costa triumph makes up for Booker disappointment – The Irish Times – Wed, Jan 04, 2012". The Irish Times. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  4. ^ Pressley, James (3 January 2012). "Julian Barnes Loses Whitbread Costa Award to French Graveyard Novel 'Pure'". Bloomberg. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  5. ^ Tremain, Rose (25 November 2011). "Books of the year 2011 | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Kyte, Holly (16 June 2011). "Pure by Andrew Miller: review". Telegraph. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  7. ^ Urquhart, James (3 June 2011). "Pure by Andrew Miller – Reviews – Books". The Independent. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  8. ^ Clark, Clare (24 June 2011). "Pure by Andrew Miller – review | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  9. ^ Levasseur, Jennifer (10 September 2011). "Working out where the bodies are buried". The Australian. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  10. ^ Lynch, Brian (18 June 2011). "Review: Fiction: Pure by Andrew Miller – Books, Entertainment". Independent.ie. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  11. ^ Johnston, Freya (20 June 2011). "Pure by Andrew Miller: review". Telegraph. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  12. ^ a b Feay, Suzi (10 June 2011). "Pure". FT.com. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  13. ^ Berridge, Vanessa (17 June 2011). "Home of the Daily and Sunday Express | Books :: Book review – Pure by Andrew Miller: Sceptre". Express.co.uk. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  14. ^ Colvin, Clare (3 June 2011). "Andrew Miller: PURE | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 4 January 2012.
  15. ^ Robson, Leo (17 July 2011). "Pure by Andrew Miller – review | Books | The Observer". Guardian. Retrieved 4 January 2012.

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