Pure: As it is in LIFE, So it is in ART

25 May

Pure by Andrew Miller (Europa Editions)

Everyday is a revelation.Today I learned, according to the New York Times front page teaser for “Books for the Beach”, “Summer reading used to mean airy page turners easily consumed.” A definition that perfectly fits young adult fiction and television. So, as you are besieged by the critical malfeasance of lists of beach/summer reading (no,I not going to quote Norman Mailer on summer reading—you’re on your own for that) allow me to offer a riveting (and awarding winning) novel by British novelist Andrew Miller—a book that the English newspaper The Guardian accurately describes as, “Intelligent, serious and thought-provoking, but also entertaining, Andrew Miller’s Pure[Europa Editions)]is the best kind of historical novel.”

You may be interested to learn (which I wasn’t but I did cogitate on the notion that Miller “defeated 4 other authors”—hopefully no blood was shed) that Pure won the prestigious Costa Book of the Year Award. Miller defeated four authors for the prize, including Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. The Award recognizes the most enjoyable book of the past year by writers in the U.K. and Ireland.”

The novel is set in Paris in 1785 where young and ambitious(in a good way) Jean-Baptiste Baratte, an engineer from the sticks (Normandy) is tasked by the King’s minister with eliminating the Les Innocents cemetery which is contaminating the surrounding environs. A vile project on the face of it, it becomes immensely difficult as the engineer proceeds with the exhumation of mass graves and plans to tear down the nearby church. This story takes place within a calendar year, at a time when unrest directed toward the reign of Louis XVI builds, as well as the occurrence of significant changes in Jean-Baptiste’s life.

Andrew Miller expiates on winning the prize and describes the storyline of Pure.

As it is in life so it is in art—which is to say that a few things grab most of the public’s attention while an endless reservoir of worthy things go with little or no recognition. Luckily for Andrew Miller, three of 6 of his (Ingenious Pain (1997) Casanova (1998) Oxygen (2001) The Optimists (2005) One Morning Like a Bird (2008) Pure (2011))novels have won ‘important’ literary prizes. What explains the lack of attention to his wonderful oeuvre? Your guess is as good as mine—perhaps the color of his book covers or ordinariness of his name?

So, if you end up reading Pure (which I am heartily encouraging), please let me know if you have read a better book than it, recently. Really, please do.

Currently reading Pulling a Train by (a very young) Harlan Ellison (Kicks Books)

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