The year is 1785 and young engineer, Jean-Baptiste Baratte has been charged with removing Les Innocents, along with its cemetery, from the heart of Paris. The scent of the graves permeates the lives of those living by, perhaps corrupting the entire area. The job will have its challenges, but Baratte is determined to succeed, and show the King that he has what it takes to be a top engineer, just like those he idolises.
The ambiance of 18th century Paris comes seeping through the pages. One member at book group said she felt a bit nauseous because of the smell, it was that effective at depicting the awful state of the old church at that time. Many of us are familiar with the catacombs of present day Paris, and this is a fictionalised story of how they got there. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t based of real life, historical characters.
Baratte starts off unsure of himself in this changing world. He goes drinking with Armand, someone who lives for The Future, and he gets swept away, partially by drink. This leads him to purchase a pistachio green suit, which becomes a symbol. As he wears the suit he is pretending to be a modern man, desperate to make an impression. It frankly sounds like a ridiculous suit to be attending grave digging sites in. As he becomes more comfortable in his own skin, and starts to see his priorities, he wishes for a plainer suit, but one still an improvement on that his father gave him.
Whilst I found the history interesting, and had a slightly morbid fascination with their task, the overall story was lacking something. There are some excellent pieces of writing, but overall it lacked something for me. It’s a short book, something that seems uncommon for historical fiction, and each element didn’t get as much exploration as I would have liked. It’s very much from Baratte’s point of view, and it skims over things that affect the other characters.
The cover blurb mentions rape, but this doesn’t happen until near the very end. Which does mean you are waiting for it all the way through. It is also brushed over very quickly and whilst handled by the characters probably as best as it could considering the period, the attitude is irritating. Also, I don’t believe it was relevant to the story, unless we are to believe the Les Innocents was corrupting people. But this was all very wishy-washy, and not concrete enough to justify the inclusion of the rape in my opinion.
Also reviewed @ Literary Relish
Book Source: Purchased
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