Publishers Weekly Best Fiction of 2012: "Miller recreates pre-Revolutionary Paris with astonishing verisimilitude."
Date: Nov 15 2012
In another exploration of historical lacunae, Miller (Ingenious Pain) delves into pre-Revolutionary Paris, where a pestilential, ancient cemetery acts as metaphor for the blighted reign of King Louis XVI. Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young Norman engineer who prides himself on his faculties of reason, is commissioned by the king's minister to close the centuries-old les Innocents cemetery, whose noxious sprawl threatens to poison adjacent neighborhoods. Jean-Baptiste moves in nearby and begins orchestrating the massive exhumation, hiring miners to dig up the thousands of bodies and cart away the bones. Among those whose lives will be changed by his commission are Jean-Baptiste's friend Armand, the organist at les Innocents' church; and Héloïse, a literate prostitute, who becomes his mistress. But as the digging commences, unexpected complications arise: risk of cave-ins, infection, rats, bats, madness, fire, and the special danger posed by his landlords' vengeful daughter, Ziguette. Despite all obstacles, Jean-Baptiste forges on with his ghoulish task, but at what cost to reason? Although the book's dramas fail to coalesce, Miller recreates pre-Revolutionary Paris with astonishing verisimilitude, and through Jean-Baptiste, illuminates the years preceding le deluge.