Andrew Miller’s new novel is vividly realized fiction played out against the rich cacophony of Paris on the cusp of the French Revolution.
Jean-Baptiste Baratte- an ambitious young engineer of modest origin- arrives in the capital in 1785, charged by the King’s minister with emptying the overflowing cemetery of Les Innocents, an ancient site whose stench is poisoning the neighborhood’s air and water.
At first Baratte sees his work 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 fate and to the demise of the social order.
Baratte cannot foresee the dramas and calamities his task will trigger, or the incident that will transform his life. As unrest against the court of Louis XVI mounts, the engineer realizes that the future he had planned may no longer be the one he wants. His assignment becomes a year of relentless effort, a year of assault and sudden death. A year of friendship, too, and of desire and love. A year unlike any other he has lived.
Andrew Miller’s first novel, Ingenious Pain, won the James Tate Memorial Prize for Fiction. He has since written five novels including Casanova and Oxygen, which was a finalist for the Whitbread Award and the Booker Prize in 2001. He lives in Somerset England.