Author: Andrew Miller
Pages: 342 (paperback)
Published: January 5th 2012
Published by: Sceptre
A year of bones, of grave-dirt, relentless work. Of mummified corpses and chanting priests. A year of rape, suicide, sudden death. Of friendship too. Of desire. Of love...
A year unlike any other he has lived.
Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. Into their midst comes Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, provincial engineer charged by the king with demolishing it.
At first Baratte sees this as a chance to clear the burden of history, a fitting task for a modern man of reason. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.
Jean-Baptiste Baratte is an engineer. His first proper job - digging up the cemetery of Les Innocents and knocking down the church there, cleansing it and the surrounding area of Paris namely of the smell. He moves in with a family and sets to work, building new relationships with those he meets on the job and in the area and resurrecting old ones to get it done.
This is another book I'm reading for my book club, and in all honesty one I didn't really want to. I (generally) know what I'm going to like, and historical fiction is not it. Especially when it is centred around a graveyard being dug up. Decomposing bodies...not my idea of a great read. So, I went in with quite low expectations and not expecting to enjoy it at all.
And while I didn't particularly enjoy it, neither did I dislike it. My opinion of this book is just a bit, meh. It wasn't bad, but there wasn't anything to grab my attention. Actually, that's not quite true. There was one event which was quite a surprise, and the result of which piqued my interest. First thing to note: I love language. It absolutely fascinates me. So when a bash around the head means one of the characters begins to forget the names of certain objects (aphasia) I was all like 'ooh! This is going to be interesting!' Unfortunately, this only lasted in any real capacity for like a chapter so my interest dropped off again quite quickly when I realised it wasn't really going to be a present aspect of the story any longer. The bits where they were actually digging up the mass graves which made up most of Les Innocents was also quite interesting, but this for the most part wasn't the focus of the story so there were appearances of what they were doing and how, but nothing all that substantial.
The story itself was alright. A fair portion of it was Baratte organising stuff and people, and there were some allusions to social uprising, but given that this taking place just a few years prior to the French Revolution I expected there to be slightly more of this stuff. Especially given the fact that Baratte considers himself something of a philosopher, as does his new friend Armand.
There are several secondary characters, but I didn't feel you really got to know any of them at all. They were all there to serve a specific purpose, and past this I didn't think they had any real depth. Armand was the revolutionary, Marie the nosey servant, and there are others whose purpose I can't really name without spoilers. Even Baratte is a bit like this: he is an engineer, and there doesn't seem to be much else about him that I could particularly see. Yes, there are hints of philosopher and revolutionary but nothing more than hints.
Overall, not a bad book but not a great one either in my opinion.