In pre-revolutionary France, Jean-Baptiste Baratte awaits a minister in Versailles to ask for employment. He is a young engineer and is hopeful to be given an interesting project.
He does get a job, but he is disappointed in its nature. The cemetery of les Innocents in Paris is so stuffed with remains that the nearby neighborhoods are being polluted. Jean-Baptiste is to oversee the removal of the remains and eventually the church. For the sake of discretion, he is not supposed to reveal his mission until he must.
The novel follows the provincial Jean-Baptiste for a year as he explores Paris and pursues his project. It conveys a strong sense of the city and of the effect of the cemetery on nearby residents.
This is another novel that I probably wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been on my Walter Scott prize list. It is an interesting novel, reminding me a bit of Viper Wine.