Pure by Andrew Miller, Stacking the Shelves #1, and a guideline for buying books.

Pure by Andrew Miller was one of the two books I bought during my visit to the United Kingdom. I usually track the HF section in Goodreads and this one got my attention some months ago since it was set a few years before the French Revolution.

The main character, Jean-Baptiste Baratte is a newly-graduated engineer who is given to perform the strangest of the works: destroying one of Paris’ cemeteries, Les Innocents. The atmosphere is rather eerie and it has an effect on the characters Jean-Baptiste meets there.

The Fountain of Les Innocents, the only thing remaining from the cemetery nowadays.

In Paris the engineer is exposed to the so-called “party of the future” through his new friend Armand. I suppose the author meant to use this as a hint of the future revolutionaries but, to be honest, I didn’t feel an atmosphere of incipient revolt throughout the book.

It is true, however, than the destruction of the cemetery could be seen as a metaphor for the arrival of new times that will sweep away the old order. On the other hand, I personally see it as a symbol of the absolute power of the King and the nobles. They are set to destroy the cemetery and they don’t care about how it is done or how it may affect the lives of people who live nearby, but they want it done fast or there will be consequences.

Let me clarify my previous point: The lack of revolutionary atmosphere does not mean that there’s no atmosphere whatsoever. Not at all. The feeling of being in constant danger, of being watched, of people being at the brink of collapsing, is present throughout the novel. There’s an asphyxiating atmosphere surrounding the cemetery that affects almost everyone. It doesn’t mean that the author didn’t do a thorough research on the era or on the destruction of the cemetery, quite the contrary!

Although the plot was interesting, and it is based in true events, perhaps I was expecting more historical context, more “revolt”. Dr Guillotin is one of the characters of the novel, but it’s still not enough.

However, I must say that Miller has a very particular way of writing that specially enjoyed. It is almost scientific, impersonal in a way, and yet it manages to lure you into the story and the characters.

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This might come as a surprise but I’ve bought some books in the week I’ve been here. In my defence, it is difficult to walk for ten minutes and not stumble upon a second-hand book stand.

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The first book I got was due to an email I got from BookDepository. They were selling some books at a really low price and I was surprised to find The Wars of the Roses by Trevor Royle. I find The War of the Roses a pretty fascinating topic and, since it is quite difficult to come across decently-priced non-fiction History books, I decided to buy it!

I got Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson at The Strand, it’s a book set in late 19th century England that I’ve been meaning to read since I read Magrat’s review of the BBC series.

When I was at The Strand I couldn’t help but looking for books by David Mitchell. I’ve already read all of them but since I borrowed Cloud Atlas and Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoët I still need to add them to my collection. So, Cloud Atlas was there and… the price was no different than in Barcelona. But I checked on Amazon and… they were selling it at half the price! I really couldn’t resist.

Some days later I was walking around Central Park when I saw a stand of The Strand and, again, some mysterious force drove me to it and I started browsing. I found three books that interested me: The Recognitions by William GaddisA hero of our time by Mikhail Lermontov, and Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov – a classic of Russian Literature dealing with the decay of the aristocracy. In a fine exercise of self-discipline I ended up only buying the latter.

A few months back I took a sort of oath to stop buying so many books. I think it’s quite impossible to do so without some sort of rules or principles to guide you when you’re in a bookshop. Incidentally, I’ve completely given up on the idea of not entering a bookshop when I see one.

In no particular order, these are the questions I ask myself when I find a book I’m interested in:

  • Is it available in the library? Can you get it on your ebook at a better price?
  • Do you really want this book? And by this I mean:
    • Have you already read it, loved it, but do not own a physical copy.
    • It has been on your Wishlist for some time, has good reviews, etc.
  • Is the book written in a language you don’t speak? In which case, is this book an exceptionally good translation? (probably not available on ebook).
  • Is the book really long? (Having it on your Kindle would be much comfortable) Or is the edition especially beautiful?
  • Is it cheaper to order it through Amazon? If it is, I save it for a day when I feel like treating myself.
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