A Year in Reading: Ellen Ullman

December 20, 2012 | 1 book mentioned 1

coverPure by Andrew Miller: In 1785, a young man sits in a cold anteroom in the decrepit and nearly empty palace of Versailles. He was born in a mining town, received an education, and is now an engineer who believes in Voltaire, science, and the virtue of civic works. His fondest hope is to receive a commission to build a bridge. Instead, he is charged with removing the remains from a putrefying Paris cemetery. He is naive. He befriends revolutionary agitators. They appropriate his work as an emblem of the French Revolution — the removal of corruption — and our engineer lives through a time when rationality slides into the madness that will bring on the Terror. There are some missteps in the story. The ways in which the engineer himself succumbs to madness, and recovers, may be too obviously drawn. No book is perfect; but this one comes close for this reader. The writing is exquisite yet (deceptively) simple. The scenes progress cinematically. The narrative pacing draws you along without resorting to tricks. It is the sort of book that makes you want to clear your day of obligations, sit down to read in the morning, break only for lunch and dinner, and come to the final page by sundown.

More from A Year in Reading 2012

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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is the author of the novels, By Blood, a New York Times Notable, and The Bug, as well as the cult classic memoir Close to the Machine, based on her years as a rare female computer programmer in the early years of the personal computer era. She lives in San Francisco.