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A Place Of Greater Safety (2006)

A Place of Greater Safety (2006)

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3.97 of 5 Votes: 5
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0312426399 (ISBN13: 9780312426392)

About book A Place Of Greater Safety (2006)

This book took me an absurdly long time to read, but man, was it worth it. Hilary Mantel's brain is some sort of freakish treasure - every time I read her, I am simultaneously elated by the beautiful things she creates and depressed that I will never be able to write the way she does. She breaks so many rules (constantly changing POV not just between characters, but from first person to an anonymous third, to her own voice, to a script format, back to traditional dialogue, &c.), but it all works.This book is billed as being about Robespierre, Danton, and Desmoulins, but let's be real - this is Camille Desmoulins' book. And that makes sense. Camille's easy to love because his opinions seemed to run pretty parallel to our own: he was present for and instrumental in all the heady early excitement, inciting the rioting that led to the storming of the Bastille, for instance, but when things got out of hand, he was quick to condemn the Reign of Terror (and he and his beautiful young wife seem to have really loved each other, so don't discount the power of a love story). It's no surprise, really, that he was a favorite of the Victorians, who saw him as a noble martyr for goodness or something. I don't care about that Camille.And thank god Mantel didn't fall for all of that. Camille's her most sympathetic character, yes, but he's also a little shit. She doesn't ignore the fact that he's the Lanterne Attorney, that he delighted in violence - you get the feeling that the Vieux Cordelier came about partly out of genuine moral distress, and partly out of petulance, as if institutionalized terror repelled him because he preferred the good old chaotic kind, the kind that had made him the revolutionary darling of the people only a few years earlier. He's a dramatic, reactionary little jerk, and his ideals are very dear to him - until those ideals are turned against a friend, aristocratic or otherwise. He's a mess, and he's rather wonderful. Not to imply that the book is 100% perfect. I read somewhere that Mantel claimed she began writing this book as a Dantonist and came out of it a Robespierrist, but I don't see that reflected in the text. Robespierre himself is amazing (a little bit of personal bias may be coming through here, but I think you'd agree - he's as exacting as you might expect, but entirely human in a way you don't always get to see), but all of her Robespierrist characters are oddly-portrayed. If she's such a Robespierrist, why the uniformly negative depiction of the Duplay family, even when Robespierre himself is narrating(even poor Éléonore, whose portraits do not support the constant barrage of comments about her plainness)? Why Robespierre's personal distaste for Saint-Just, a man who would remain his closest ally until they died on the same day? Even the structure of the plot is Dantonist - Robespierrists don't generally imply that the fall of the factions was the de facto end of the Revolution, because what does that say about Robespierre's own abilities? A book about Camille Desmoulins is going to be inherently Dantonist, but there were still some choices I didn't really understand.As for Danton himself? He's tough to love, but fun to read. A bit of a brute, hugely egotistical (granted, with good reason) and generally self-interested. Like the rest of the book, he's very well-drawn, but he never inspired much in the way of feelings.Oh, I don't know. Mantel is a genius, and her books are art. She balances the personal and political so well - I don't want to imagine it in less-skilled hands. The reader would race through the political discussions to get to the next scene with Camille and Lucile (or, well, Camille and Danton or Robespierre or anyone; her Camille is definitely a flirt). But Mantel's mind-blowing, and I was never bored for an instant. My grasp of the French Revolution isn't as strong as my grasp of Tudor history, so I was a little worried that I wouldn't love this as much as I loved Wolf Hall, but I think I may love it even more. I am awed.

This historical novel by Hilary Mantel focuses on three primary figures from the French Revolution – Robespierre, Danton, and Desmoulins. The exploration of their lives, their characters, their interactions, and their historical roles necessarily draws in dozens of other personages, most actually historical, and for the reader familiar with the events of the time the result is a satisfying window into the ambiance of those difficult years.Mantel is a skillful and engaging writer. Her use of metaphor is often particularly striking. The house “has the sulphurous odor of family quarrels brewing.” Her novel also demonstrates a keen sense of pace. As the narrative progresses, sections become shorter and shorter, sometimes containing only a few sentences. This choppiness mirrors the increasing chaos of events as the tempo quickens.Mantel is particularly skillful in delineating her characters, giving them distinctive personalities and voices. For each a portrait is gradually painted that is increasingly rounded even as it changes over time. This novel is notable for almost all of the characters being rather unsympathetic, none highly attractive to the reader except perhaps for Gabrielle, Danton’s wife, and she seems wholly good only because she turns her face aside from the moral compromises going on all the time around her, thus shielding herself from her own knowledge and giving her a sort of faux-innocence. All the others are flawed and, in the face of the need to progressively compromise themselves, cannot resist the slide into evil that they would never have originally countenanced but that they are too ready to excuse and justify. Thus they descend into caricatures of who they might have been, their mock-heroism a feeble and seemingly inevitable inverse of the true heroism that resistance would have required. Finding themselves inextricably entwined in webs of their own making, they lack the will or ability to break free and thus feel no alternative but to press forward, even in the face of hopelessness and violence. Initially visionary, they become reactive, and expedience replaces idealism. First the psychic stability of each starts to crack, after which they predictably begin to fall on one another. One is left wondering whether the issue is that, as Lord Acton asserted, power itself tends to corrupt, or whether these leaders of the Revolution became so ensnared by the system they had created that they were motivated primarily by fears for their own safety. Perhaps events so entangled them that they could envision no alternative to the next step toward the abyss. In developing her characters, Mantel holds up an indicting mirror to those of us who are her readers, making us examine ourselves and our own society and culture.Mantel’s book is of course highly fictionalized, with many details of place, people, and conversation that could not have been based on actual documentation. The personalities of the chief protagonists sometimes seem crafted for their entertainment value. The novel is interesting and engaging, but is it history? For the reader knowing the chronology of the history, this is one way of fleshing it out, but a rather arbitrary way. It raises the issue of how “historical” historical fiction is, and what we have a right to expect from the genre. As always, one comes back to the need to read from multiple sources, balancing and comparing, evaluating and judging, synthesizing a composite for oneself, always provisional and ready to be changed if necessary when more information and impressions deem it necessary.I greatly enjoyed reading this book and am glad that I read it after first developing a firm grounding in the actual historical events. Mantel’s characters truly come alive.

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This book is one of my all-time favorites, and I remain in awe of Mantel for balancing the historical and political elements with telling a darn good story. She deals with an enormous cast of characters (most of which history itself supplied, but she makes them come to life), and her portrayal of Camille and Lucile Desmoulins in particular is utterly captivating--they definitely steal the book. If you don't know much about the French Revolution, you will probably be a bit confused by the plot, but honestly it doesn't even matter; you can still read the book and get caught up in the characters and in the writing. This was the first book of Mantel's that I read, and it sparked my interest so much that I read a couple of others afterward which I liked all right, but neither compared to this as far as scope and accomplishment. Yes, at 800 pages, it's an investment to read, but one that's well worth it.
—Pei Pei

French people are strange! Maybe it's the eating the snails. I mean honestly, okay, here in America we eat strange things too. Pickled Pig's Feet, Pickles that are pickled in Kool-Aid, and Twinkies (what is in a twinkie). But the French sure brought head loss to a whole new level. Honestly, I think it was the snails (apparently, according to the Romans, snails fed on meat are too die for).Or maybe the wine.Or maybe it was the fact that the only meat the average French person could have was bug.Okay, I'm sorry for the food digression. I'm part French too. And to be honest, no one throws a "about to win the Euro Cup" street party the way they do in Paris. (Unless, it is when the Dutch beat the Germans. I keep digressing. I suppose I should get around to reviewing this book or eating dinner).Despite the surreal beginnings of this review, this is, to borrow a phrase, "a thumping good read", which is good considering my edition would make a good doorstop. This book was Mantel's first novel, though it was not published first. If you liked Wolf Hall, you'll like this one. If you liked Beyond Black, why did you and you might not like this.Mantel presents the French Revolution, and while she doesn't capture the spell or smell of the then Paris (and to be quite frank, why would you want to smell it?), she captures the fevor, the passion, the blood lust of the French Revolution. Like her central characters, the reader is swept into Vive le Revolution. Vive le France. Who cares who loses thier head?Actually, the reader does despite all the Vive.Just the read book, okay.

From BBC Radio 4 - Drama:Hilary Mantel's gripping account of the cataclysmic events of the French Revolution seen through the eyes of three of its most important figures, Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins and Maximilien Robespierre.Episode 1: LibertyHilary Mantel's epic account of the French Revolution.Episode 2: EqualityHilary Mantel's epic account of the French Revolution as seen through the eyes of its principal characters. Pressure is growing on the revolutionaries to depose the king and create a republic.Episode 3: FraternityHilary Mantel's epic account of the French Revolution France is at war. Louis the 16th and Marie Antoinette have been arrested and await execution. And Robespierre and Danton are increasingly at odds over the direction the Revolution should take.Dramatised by Melissa MurrayPart one: LibertyDirected by Marc Beeby.*Beyond Black4* Wolf Hall4* Bring Up the Bodies3* The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher3* A Place of Greater SafetyTR The Mirror and the Light

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