Sunday, 27 November 2011
Author: Andrew Miller
Number of pages: 352
Started: 22 November 2011
Finished: 27 November 2011
A young man, young but not very young, sits in an anteroom somewhere, some wing or other, in the Palace of Versailles. He is waiting.
He has been waiting a long time. There is no fi re in the room, though it is the third week in October and cold as Candlemas. His legs and back are stiffening
from it – the cold and three days of travelling through it, first with Cousin André from Bellême to Nogent, then the coach, overfull with raw-faced people in winter coats, baskets on their laps, parcels under their feet, some travelling with dogs, one old man with a cockerel under his coat. Thirty hours to Paris and the rue aux Ours, where they climbed down onto cobbles and horseshit, and shifted about outside the haulier’s offi ce as if unsure of their legs. Then this morning, coming from the lodgings he had taken on the rue – the rue what? – an early start on a hired nag to reach Versailles and this, a day that may be the most important of his life, or may be nothing.
Read a longer extract here
Deep in the heart of Paris its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing. Its stench hangs in the air, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. The over-filled graves pop and burst, filling people’s basements with bones and spreading disease across the capital. But the cemetery’s roots are embedded deep in the hearts and minds of the people, for whom the graveyard has long provided a backdrop to their daily lives. 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. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.
What I thought:
This is not a genre of book that I would normally read, and the demolition of a cemetery is probably not my normal choice of reading matter. That said, this was a readable book and I did quite enjoy it. It was well written and the plot was more engaging than I might have expected. Of the Costa list, this is one of the better ones and I’ll be interested to see how it gets in with the judges.