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A Place of Greater Safety (4th Estate Matchbook Classics)

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An extraordinary work of historical imagination – this is Hilary Mantel’s epic novel of the French Revolution. One of the ten books – novels, memoirs and one very unusual biography – that make up the 4th Estate Matchbook Classics’ series, a stunningly redesigned collection of some of the best loved titles on our backlist. 1789: as Revolution sweeps through France, three obs An extraordinary work of historical imagination – this is Hilary Mantel’s epic novel of the French Revolution. One of the ten books – novels, memoirs and one very unusual biography – that make up the 4th Estate Matchbook Classics’ series, a stunningly redesigned collection of some of the best loved titles on our backlist. 1789: as Revolution sweeps through France, three obscure young men step into the harsh light of history. Georges Jacques Danton has a prize fighter’s build, a sharp lawyer’s brain, a consuming ambition. Camille Desmoulins, charming and erratic, is a writer of genius with a taste for violence. Maximilien Robespierre is a slight, meek idealist who recoils from power, but who will lead his country into the darkness of the Terror. For these men, the Revolution is a blood rite: the forces they have helped unleash will remake the world, but destroy their lives. From the two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize, A Place of Greater Safety announced Hilary Mantel as one of our greatest living novelists.


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An extraordinary work of historical imagination – this is Hilary Mantel’s epic novel of the French Revolution. One of the ten books – novels, memoirs and one very unusual biography – that make up the 4th Estate Matchbook Classics’ series, a stunningly redesigned collection of some of the best loved titles on our backlist. 1789: as Revolution sweeps through France, three obs An extraordinary work of historical imagination – this is Hilary Mantel’s epic novel of the French Revolution. One of the ten books – novels, memoirs and one very unusual biography – that make up the 4th Estate Matchbook Classics’ series, a stunningly redesigned collection of some of the best loved titles on our backlist. 1789: as Revolution sweeps through France, three obscure young men step into the harsh light of history. Georges Jacques Danton has a prize fighter’s build, a sharp lawyer’s brain, a consuming ambition. Camille Desmoulins, charming and erratic, is a writer of genius with a taste for violence. Maximilien Robespierre is a slight, meek idealist who recoils from power, but who will lead his country into the darkness of the Terror. For these men, the Revolution is a blood rite: the forces they have helped unleash will remake the world, but destroy their lives. From the two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize, A Place of Greater Safety announced Hilary Mantel as one of our greatest living novelists.

30 review for A Place of Greater Safety (4th Estate Matchbook Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Finally decided to jack this one and I'm light-headed and blinking like a person unaccustomed to the light and the sweet air of liberty. What a bummer when you pick a big long novel and it turns out to be the pain in the arse this one did - not so bad that I could apply the 100 page rule but not so good that I actually wanted to pick the thing up and read the words in it. This is a magnificently detailed weird-ass almost day-by-day recreation of the French Revolution seen through the ever-talkin Finally decided to jack this one and I'm light-headed and blinking like a person unaccustomed to the light and the sweet air of liberty. What a bummer when you pick a big long novel and it turns out to be the pain in the arse this one did - not so bad that I could apply the 100 page rule but not so good that I actually wanted to pick the thing up and read the words in it. This is a magnificently detailed weird-ass almost day-by-day recreation of the French Revolution seen through the ever-talking mouths of Danton, Desmoulins and Johnny (they call me Mr Terror) Robespierre but all these grand revolutionaries seem to be on Prozac, perpetually polite, never agitated - they're the world's most unagitated agitators - all the dialogue (and there is a real lot) is slightly oblique, brittle but never witty, like it was written by Oscar Wilde's little-known Asperger-Syndrome brother, the zillion secondary characters swarming around the three main ones are totally confusing, the main issues thrown up by the events of the revolution are rarely alluded to and really the whole complex edifice made me want to watch Terminator 2 again because with T2 you know what the issues are, you know that Arnie is a cyborg sent back in time to protect John Connor and you know the T-1000, a superior machine, has been sent back to kill him and you know these two mothers have this giant knock down drag-out for two hours and Arnie has to win otherwise the entire future of the very human race will be aswirling down the cosmic sump of time so biff bang clang and squish.... I think Hilary Mantel could have learned a few things from T2. Like action, humour and a clear understanding of what's really at stake.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    As Hilary Mantel states in the author’s note, "[t]his is a novel about the French Revolution and almost all of the characters in it are real people". Mantel goes on to write that the novel “is closely tied to historical facts – as far as those facts are agreed – which isn’t really very far”. The narrative focuses on three men who are central to the Revolution: the hard-headed pragmatist, Georges-Jacques Danton; the passionate rabble-rouser, Camille Desmoulins and the fanatic ideologue, Maximilie As Hilary Mantel states in the author’s note, "[t]his is a novel about the French Revolution and almost all of the characters in it are real people". Mantel goes on to write that the novel “is closely tied to historical facts – as far as those facts are agreed – which isn’t really very far”. The narrative focuses on three men who are central to the Revolution: the hard-headed pragmatist, Georges-Jacques Danton; the passionate rabble-rouser, Camille Desmoulins and the fanatic ideologue, Maximilien Robespierre. It follows their lives from their school days to the height of the Reign of Terror. I came to this extremely long novel not because I had any particular interest in the French Revolution, but because I fell in love with Mantel’s writing in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and wanted to read more of her work. I was initially disconcerted by the extraordinarily long character list at the front of the novel: some thirteen (Kindle-sized) pages. The one disadvantage of reading a very long book on an e-reader is the inability to easily flick back through the pages, which meant that after that first eye-glazing encounter with the character list, I didn’t consult it again. However, I didn’t need to, as I had no difficulty following the plot and (more or less) keeping track of who's who. Mantel’s style is idiosyncratic. She moves from past to present tense and from third person to first person narration, with the occasional instance of addressing the reader directly. Some of the narrative consists of dialogue in the form of a script. All of this shouldn’t work, but it does for me. I simply love the way Mantel writes. She has a wonderful way with words. Take her description of the Duke of Orléan’s former mistress, for example: Felicité is a woman of sweet and iron willfulness, and she writes books. There are few acres in the field of human knowledge that she has not ploughed with her harrowing pedantry. Or the way she describes Camille Desmoulin’s feeling about writing: When it was time to write, and he took his pen in his hand, he never thought of consequences, he thought of style. I wonder why I ever bothered with sex, he thought; there’s nothing in this breathing world so gratifying as an artfully placed semicolon. Although I read this book mostly because I want to read everything Mantel writes, it has also made me very much interested in the French Revolution. Thanks to Mantel, I feel like I understand what happened over those tumultuous years. More than that, I feel like I was there, inside the heads of the players. And even though I knew how it was all going to end, the final few pages still devastated me. I keep telling myself that I prefer history and biography to novels about real historical figures. But Hilary Mantel converts me to historical fiction. I've spent two weeks totally engaged with the meticulously researched world she has created and I completely believe her version of the French Revolution. If I could give this novel more than five stars, I would. This was another buddy read with my friend Jemidar, who shares my fan girl enthusiasm for Hilary Mantel's writing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    "For historians, creative writers provide a kind of pornography. They break the rules and admit the thing that is imagined, but is not licensed to be imagined." Thus Hilary Mantel in an illuminating article on Robespierre in the London Review of Books. Her use of the p-word is a measure of the kind of disdain she feels emanating from the academic historians, who seem to think there are only two kinds of history, the 'sceptical and rational' or the 'imaginative and erratic'. But Mantel has defini "For historians, creative writers provide a kind of pornography. They break the rules and admit the thing that is imagined, but is not licensed to be imagined." Thus Hilary Mantel in an illuminating article on Robespierre in the London Review of Books. Her use of the p-word is a measure of the kind of disdain she feels emanating from the academic historians, who seem to think there are only two kinds of history, the 'sceptical and rational' or the 'imaginative and erratic'. But Mantel has definitely and emphatically created a third category: the flawlessly well-researched, vivid, modern re-telling and re-interpretation. At the end of the book Robespierre's thoughts return to his mother sitting by a window making lace. 'He saw that it was the gaps that were important, the spaces between the threads which made the pattern and not the threads.' A perfect image of how a text can be viewed both ways, as the woven threads around spaces or holes surrounded by threads. Another playful reference by Ms Mantel to her craft - and this novel has several such winks and nudges - essentially looking at the holes and gaps in history and filling them with her imagination. So what are the holes and gaps? This is not a distortion of facts, a filling in of detail that is missing in the historical accounts: this is fiction, and fiction is licensed to do what academics may not. Fiction can give us the emotions: hope, euphoria, frustration, apprehension, fear, jealousy, envy, pettiness, resentment, friendship, loyalty, love, hate, betrayal. At the same time Mantel never tries to deceive the reader, she points up her modern idiom, openly admits that Danton never wrote anything down, but slyly asks if perhaps we can hear his voice nevertheless and then provides us with that voice, makes use of documents and original sources, and then juxtaposes them with conversations between two characters that of course can only be imagined. The re-interpretation is her scrupulous avoidance of a well-ploughed furrow, that of portraying Danton as the bull-like masculine sensualist and Robespierre as the ascetic 'feminine' incorruptible, in opposition to each other virtually from the start. She pays service to these images, the myths that grew up around them so swiftly will no doubt have some grain of truth in them, but she will not take on any prejudices without her own careful examination. This is a magnificent achievement, gripping and engrossing, and a strident demonstration of how historical fiction can compliment the academic. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v22/n07/hilary-m...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    My first successful fictional audio book. The narrator Jonathsn Keeble, is I thought, fantastic. I actually listened and read this, following along with the narration. The book itself, concentrated on three prominent figures of the French Revolution, was witty, informative, if not quite historically accurate, though certain events were. Centering on the lives of three let the reader enter their thoughts, actions and personal lives. Mantel has a way with words, wringing out of them, both the absu My first successful fictional audio book. The narrator Jonathsn Keeble, is I thought, fantastic. I actually listened and read this, following along with the narration. The book itself, concentrated on three prominent figures of the French Revolution, was witty, informative, if not quite historically accurate, though certain events were. Centering on the lives of three let the reader enter their thoughts, actions and personal lives. Mantel has a way with words, wringing out of them, both the absurd and ironic that makes the reader take notice. I remembered quite a bit of the French Revolution from my long past school days, but this book was a friendlier, entertaining look at the confusion and inner positioning that took place.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Where I got the book: my local library. Spoilers but only if you never knew the French Revolution = wholesale death and that real characters who lived 200+ years ago may be a little on the deceased side by now anyway. "Louise Robert says she would write a novel...but she fears that as a character in fiction Camille would not be believed. Indeed, I just had to look him up to make sure." Oh, Camille. What a character. And he's flanked by two more tours de force of the literary re-creation of history Where I got the book: my local library. Spoilers but only if you never knew the French Revolution = wholesale death and that real characters who lived 200+ years ago may be a little on the deceased side by now anyway. "Louise Robert says she would write a novel...but she fears that as a character in fiction Camille would not be believed. Indeed, I just had to look him up to make sure." Oh, Camille. What a character. And he's flanked by two more tours de force of the literary re-creation of history. Mantel takes the lives of Camille (it's impossible to call him by his surname, Desmoulins), Danton and Robespierre from early childhood right through a date with Mme. La Guillotine. What a study in contrasts. Camille, Mr. Dark Radiance: Danton, brutal, ugly, massive and yet strangely sexy: Robespierre, ascetic, stiff, nerveless and cold: And then the other character, the French Revolution: unstoppable history, heartbreaking because it had to happen that way. Mantel gives us the Revolution in conversations. Chunks of dialogue interlarded with here a quotation, there a fact, yonder a dramatic scene. But it's the conversations and the thoughts of the person through whose eyes we're seeing that drive the logic of the inexorable slide toward the Terror. In the Cromwell novels, Mantel funnels everything through Cromwell's POV; here, we're endlessly shifting, a habit I decry in many novels but Mantel pulls it off. She also gets away with switching tenses and generally leaving the reader to work out what's happening by herself. And she does this over 749 pages, which makes it a novel not for the fainthearted. Well worth the reading if you can manage it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    Re-read August 2020 I dreamt of a republic which all the world would have adored; I could never have believed that men could be so ferocious and so unjust. After struggling a bit the first time, I came back to this novel and this time round loved it! I'd say it's a book that needs time and concentration (plus Google open at the side unless you're an aficionado of the French Revolution and the various and shifting factions). It has an interesting provenance as Mantel started writing it in 1974 Re-read August 2020 I dreamt of a republic which all the world would have adored; I could never have believed that men could be so ferocious and so unjust. After struggling a bit the first time, I came back to this novel and this time round loved it! I'd say it's a book that needs time and concentration (plus Google open at the side unless you're an aficionado of the French Revolution and the various and shifting factions). It has an interesting provenance as Mantel started writing it in 1974 even though it wasn't published till the early 1990s and we can already see, in embryo, her approach to historical fiction that flowered in the Wolf Hall trilogy. Once again, Mantel takes a lot for granted in her readers and assumes we understand the context and origins of the politics of the Revolution - she name-checks Tacitus and Rousseau but doesn't explore their influence in any great detail. In fact, the first half of the book can be hard to get a hold of: we're introduced to Camille Desmoulins, Maximilien Robespierre and George-Jacques Danton along with a proverbial cast of thousands but they rarely talk politics until suddenly the Bastille is being attacked. Unlike, say, Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities there's no real sense of poverty or oppression and the 'common people' hardly make a showing unless they become empowered via the Revolution itself. Mantel appears to be interested in the workings of power and the way it intersects with personality - a topic which looks forward to the later Cromwell books. Here, though, her approach is more diffuse as she follows her triad: volatile and vulnerable Camille Desmoulins, bold and fleshy Danton with his charisma and his grubby morals, and the troubled intellectual fervour of Maximilien Robespierre. The first half is all about mental pleasures, but by about midway through the book the pace accelerates and we get increasingly caught up in the excitement and the terrors. And the ending has almost the emotional impact and tenor of the final pages of The Mirror & the Light. ------------------------------------------------- Original review, August 2019 For me, this is an impressive novel - but one which is a chore to get through. For one, it needs a serious edit: it took about 400 pages, almost half the book, before the dramatic tension really started to rise for me. Before that, we're treated to long scenes during the childhood, adolescence and early careers of Robespierre, Danton and Desmoulins - a bit like that opener in Wolf Hall where we see Cromwell as a young battered boy, only in the latter book Mantel then moves swiftly to the substance of her protagonist's life. Already we can see the stylistic quirks and techniques that Mantel has made her own: the sardonic view of history, the arch wit (too arch in too many places, here), the adoption of positively anachronistic speech so that characters feel like our contemporaries (a comment on how we always read 'history' via the horizons of our present?), the brain-led engagement with the story but, for me, a lack of heart. This is a book in which the pleasures are all intellectual, even textual, lying not so much in the story as in the way it is told. Maybe this is Mantel's rejection of the way modern historical fiction is so often chick-lit in fancy dress, all breathless gasps and thumping hearts? In any case, she perhaps goes to the opposite extreme as her characters frequently feel bloodless to me. Which is a shame. For all my disappointments, there's no doubt that Mantel has marshalled a huge amount of research and keeps tabs on a vast array of characters. Impressive undoubtedly and full of sly wit - but I wanted something deeply engrossing to fall into while on holiday in France and this kept my brain switched on, my emotions largely off. Wrong book, wrong time maybe?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    Having read her two Cromwell novels, I couldn't help comparing the style Mantel perfected in those to this much earlier work. For example, the depictions of the childhoods of the three main characters reminded me of the same technique she uses to first get us engaged in and sympathetic toward Cromwell in Wolf Hall. In all three novels, once blood is shed, and alliances made and remade--and even though I know what's coming--the tension is ratcheted up to an almost unbearable pitch. A lovely passa Having read her two Cromwell novels, I couldn't help comparing the style Mantel perfected in those to this much earlier work. For example, the depictions of the childhoods of the three main characters reminded me of the same technique she uses to first get us engaged in and sympathetic toward Cromwell in Wolf Hall. In all three novels, once blood is shed, and alliances made and remade--and even though I know what's coming--the tension is ratcheted up to an almost unbearable pitch. A lovely passage at the end set my heart racing, in much the same way as my favorite metaphor in Wolf Hall and the final page of Bring Up the Bodies did. There are many differences, of course, the main one being that here we get to be inside, though in varying degrees, the mind of more than just one person. When we finally get to Danton's own voice, a rarely intruding narratorial voice sets it up, saying 'she' didn't expect for Danton to speak, but time is running out (and this with more than half of the book left)! As with the Cromwell novels, and with the best of any historical fiction, we are left to reflect on a world that is maybe not that much different from our own. How something so horrific could possibly happen is shown through full characterizations and likely scenarios that don't stray from the historical record, though we don't get (or need) all the details. A smug feeling of this only being able to happen in a remote past does not exist during this reading. Perhaps not on such a large scale (excepting, for only a few examples, Hitler's, Mao's and Stalin's purges), there were and are many Reigns of Terror. Only yesterday I read of the 129 bodies found in secret graves in Mexico. * My rating could be a 4.5 or 4.75, but only because I know Mantel's Cromwell novels are even better. If I'd read this first, I would've thought she couldn't possibly have done anything better.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Well, thanks to the ministrations of Hilary Mantel, I now feel that I have the start of an understanding of the French Revolution and some of its key players. While A Place of Greater Safety is an acknowledged historical fiction, it is peopled with historical figures who lived the revolution, wrote its new laws and newspapers, created and were victims of its blood-lust. Mantel uses multiple styles in her creation: writing in the third and first person; inserting occasional historic quotes; recre Well, thanks to the ministrations of Hilary Mantel, I now feel that I have the start of an understanding of the French Revolution and some of its key players. While A Place of Greater Safety is an acknowledged historical fiction, it is peopled with historical figures who lived the revolution, wrote its new laws and newspapers, created and were victims of its blood-lust. Mantel uses multiple styles in her creation: writing in the third and first person; inserting occasional historic quotes; recreating those newspaper entries; entering conversations between various important persons; presenting imagined diary entries and private thoughts. I found myself reading this lengthy novel compulsively, wanting to know (yet knowing) what would happen next. And I enjoyed the variety of the presentation also as it seemed to add some lightness to what is, after all, a heavy story. Late in the novel, Camille Desmoullins asks Robespierre: "What did we have the Revolution for? I thought it was so that we could speak out against oppression. I thought it was to free us from tyranny. But this is tyranny. Show me a worse one in the history of the world...." Robespierre would not look at him; but without doing so, he reached out for his arm. "Everything you say is true." he whispered, "but I don't know how to proceed." Yes this is historical fiction, but the history books tell us much the same: the Revolution had become the master over the people involved. There are many quotable moments in such a long book but I will leave it for another to find a few and for another reader to find their own favorite. For me, the book has left me with a thirst for more knowledge about those times and many thanks that I did not live then. Highly recommended for those willing to commit to a lengthy read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Henk

    A winding, sprawling novel that leaves nearly all its characters dead due to cancel culture taken to the extreme or How you transition from the opposition to the establishment that needs to be toppled in 950 sweeping pages - 3 stars. When it was time to write, and he took his pen in his hand, he never thought of consequences; he thought of style. I wonder why I ever bothered with sex, he thought; there's nothing in this breathing world so gratifying as an artfully placed semicolon. Three lawyers ( A winding, sprawling novel that leaves nearly all its characters dead due to cancel culture taken to the extreme or How you transition from the opposition to the establishment that needs to be toppled in 950 sweeping pages - 3 stars. When it was time to write, and he took his pen in his hand, he never thought of consequences; he thought of style. I wonder why I ever bothered with sex, he thought; there's nothing in this breathing world so gratifying as an artfully placed semicolon. Three lawyers (the same profession of Thomas Cromwell, the main character of Hilary Mantel her prized later trilogy) form the centre of this sprawling novel: Camille Desmoulins - charming, warm and extroverted, and with a disarming tactical stutter Maximilien de Robespierre - Politely rude and independent, a quiet observer, first of all of the death of his mother Georges-Jacques Danton - with a face ripped apart by a bull at an early age and the lungs of an orator. The sections where we follow Camille, culminating in the storming of the Bastille, are delightful and show him in all his charm and lack of discipline. In general I feel Mantel is splendid in bringing a world at the brink of massive change to life. In the current Corona measure ridden world this weirdly resonated with me, the feeling of a system teetering on the brink. Danton is most clearly the outflow of a mentality of “might makes right”, including taking other men their wifes as lovers. he is corrupt and even envelops the Crown Jewels in a plot to further both the revolution and his own coffers. Camille is a fascinating, weird character, annoying, childlike, selfish but also brilliant with words and charming. but however much he is charming, adventurous and a scoundrel, it is Robespierre with his principles turns out to be most ruthless. The storytelling initially is compelling. However later on the perspectives sometimes weirdly shift. In section 3.2 we suddenly shift perspective to the wife of one of the main figures and in 4.2 we find ourself not observing over someone's shoulder but straight through the fourth wall into the "I" of Danton. We never get inside Robespierre his head, although he seems to be the most ethical of the three. Danton in forcefulness resembles Cromwell who Mantel later would take on (an already a few times mentions in this work). And Camille in the end just breaks, but Robespierre his thoughts and motivations are never really seen directly. The number of characters who are depicted along the way by Mantel is enormous. We have countless women who for the most part just wait while the men execute their opportunistic and not overtly well thought out plans. There is sexual freedom/decadence, like being best friends with your wife’s lover, which brings enormous subplots and intrigue with it. We have cowering, plotting nobility and priests being cajoled in to following the wishes of the new regime. And guiding all this are the ever stronger, reality distorting fields of Danton and Robespierre. Camille as an interlocutor between the two more and more struggles with being lesser than these giants of the revolution. We have casual talk of murders and loss of life, the immorality of the situation of a country besieged from all sides and almost bankrupt, generals being replaced at breathtaking pace and a lack of clear predefined plans. When we enter the last part of the book it becomes ever more clear that the revolution is eating the frontrunners that claimed to support it at a breakneck pace. The Terror as depicted by Mantel foreshadows streaks of Communist repression and editing of the past, and it made me question: "What did the revolution solve or achieve for the common man?". There is paranoia, past affinities and points of view retrospectively being declared treacherous. Added to the mix is a tragic tension between personal affection and party politics. Plus a toxic: "If you’re not with us you’re against us" attitude. We see glimpses of tensions that shaped the revolutionaries world, like Paris versus the rest of the country, but in the end I felt I got very little external background on France and Europe and the struggles driving the main characters. This might have obscured for me the goal and sense of all of the political machinations. But to be fair: nearly everyone we encounter earlier in the book ends up under the guillotine and the whole revolution feels like a train wreck at the end of the book. I as reader felt I lost sight of the ideals of the characters, as much as they themselves had. In the end A Place of Greater Safety felt intellectual satisfying, but left me feeling that most of the characters were mythologicalized, larger than life superbeings, who always have witty words ready for any situation. I was sometimes quite amazed that Robespierre and Danton were sick and showed some humanity through this, showing they did have a body to take care for. They didn't feel like real people till the end chapter, when we have the main characters being dragged into a show trial and send to the guillotine. This did touch me emotionally (and makes me very curious to see how she will handle the final moments of Cromwell in The Mirror & the Light). An impressive debut; it's not often such a long novel kept me engaged, but in the end too long and maybe too admiring towards the main characters to really capture the heart. Quotes (in Dutch): ‘Hou deze waarheid in het achterhoofd, Maximilien,’ zei père Herivaux. ‘De meeste mensen zijn lui en zullen klakkeloos jouw oordeel over jezelf overnemen. Zorg dus dat je jezelf niet onderschat.’ We kunnen een jongen als jij niet de voorrechten van geboorte en rijkdom verschaffen. ‘De armen hebben geen gevoel,’ zei de prins. ‘Doe niet zo sentimenteel.’ Ik zou liever dood zijn dan vrouw, dacht hij. Hij was zich vaag bewust van een gemiste afslag, zo’n vork in de weg die je je later herinnert, wanneer je eenmaal flink verdwaald bent. Door zich toe te leggen op die dode taal verborg Camille zijn ellende, verwarring en verdriet voor zichzelf; door de ontvanger tot vertalen te dwingen zei hij: Bedenk dat mijn leven wat mij betreft één groot literair spel is, iets wat alleen bestaat wanneer het wordt neergeschreven en per post verstuurd. En u vindt dat ik gewoon mezelf zou moeten zijn? Waarom niet? Meestal heb ik het gevoel dat dat niet genoeg is. En wij op onze beurt bestrijden de gevestigde orde alleen maar omdat we er niet in slagen zijn smerige ladder op te klimmen. Camille, zei hij, ik zou je nog niet naar de markt sturen om een krop sla. De letterlijke waarheid maakt niets meer uit. Het enige wat ertoe doet, is wat ze op straat denken. Ook wanneer je kinderen hebt gekregen stroomt er bloed door je aderen, geen melk. Je kunt niet een koers volgen maar de logische gevolgen ervan verwerpen. Noodzaak hoeft niet te worden vrijgepleit of gerechtvaardigd. Ze werd ervan beschuldigd te zijn wat ze was. Er werd haar ten laste gelegd dat ze bestond. Daar was geen verweer op mogelijk.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    A flawed book, but a very impressive and absorbing one. Mantel traces the story of the Revolution through the experiences of Danton, Robespierre and Desmouslins, along with an extensive cast of the men and women who knew, loved, or hated them. If I'm honest I'd have to say it could have lost a couple of hundred pages – a tighter edit is definitely in there somewhere, although there's something to be said for a lengthy story that you have to live with for a few days. Part of me wanted more detail a A flawed book, but a very impressive and absorbing one. Mantel traces the story of the Revolution through the experiences of Danton, Robespierre and Desmouslins, along with an extensive cast of the men and women who knew, loved, or hated them. If I'm honest I'd have to say it could have lost a couple of hundred pages – a tighter edit is definitely in there somewhere, although there's something to be said for a lengthy story that you have to live with for a few days. Part of me wanted more detail about ordinary life. A Place of Greater Safety is not about that, and there is rather little in the way of dramatisation of the average Parisian's experience through those dark days at the end of the 18th century. This is very much concerned with the ‘great men’ of the time and how they saw things. It's a very useful window on those men, but at the same time the uninformed reader might be left wondering why this fight was thought so necessary in the first place. Mantel also assumes a fair amount of knowledge about who her characters are. This allows for some beautiful touches of irony in her narration, but, especially towards the beginning, it can make it difficult to distinguish between even such different characters as Robespierre and Danton. Camille Desmoulins is the one who really comes to life here: witty, artistic, sometimes cruel, he is painted convincingly as an aesthete avant la lettre, and a great foil for the splenetic, populist Danton, and the cautious and frighteningly logical Robespierre. The writing is deceptively simple; it sketches a few lines of dialogue here, a couple of descriptive touches there, not going in for rich portraits of Revolutionary Paris but rather outlining the salient landmarks and allowing the reader to fill in the details. By the time the last hundred pages roll around, the cumulative effect is crushingly powerful, and there is an almost unbearable sense of how badly things will end. I had to put the book down every 20 pages; I just couldn't live in that world for too long at a time. The impression, of good-intentions-gone-wrong, is beautifully given, and followed through ruthlessly. Sometimes the rigorous historical accuracy seemed more of an artistic constraint than a help; but ultimately I was left moved and appalled by the way this story played out. It's a perfect accompaniment to any non-fictional reading in the period, and a great description by any standards of humanity's ability to turn on itself.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)

    There’s no way I would’ve finished this if Mantel weren’t one of my favorite authors. And even then, there was a whole lot of sunk cost fallacy getting me to the end. It’s fascinating to see the germination for her later (greater) novels by examining what does and doesn’t work in this one. For me, there was too much historical detail and unconventional structure, with too little novelistic glue to help the reader appreciate and enjoy these other elements. The Thomas Cromwell novels lead you down There’s no way I would’ve finished this if Mantel weren’t one of my favorite authors. And even then, there was a whole lot of sunk cost fallacy getting me to the end. It’s fascinating to see the germination for her later (greater) novels by examining what does and doesn’t work in this one. For me, there was too much historical detail and unconventional structure, with too little novelistic glue to help the reader appreciate and enjoy these other elements. The Thomas Cromwell novels lead you down a dark stairwell with enough guidance and assuredness to make the murk thrilling. This novel leaves you to stumble down the stairwell—slick surface, no bannister, and you’re not even sure you’re going anywhere worthwhile. But there’s enough casual brilliance peppered throughout that I expect this would be a great read for people who are already intimately familiar (and I do mean intimately) with the French Revolution.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    If you want to begin to understand how revolution happens, how individuals get to manipulate the mob, how rioters can be triggered to bring down a government or a monarch, this well researched and beautifully written fictionalised account of the French revolution is a good place to start.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alice Poon

    I was reading this epic novel non-stop for the last seven days and, with a sigh of relief, I finally reached the end yesterday. While mulling on how to write this review, an immediate thought that came to mind was that the novel could’ve been tightened and slimmed down by a fifth to a quarter. I’m giving it a rating of 4.2 stars out of 5. On the whole, it is a rigorously researched work of historical fiction describing in minute details the emotional, sexual and political lives of the three leadi I was reading this epic novel non-stop for the last seven days and, with a sigh of relief, I finally reached the end yesterday. While mulling on how to write this review, an immediate thought that came to mind was that the novel could’ve been tightened and slimmed down by a fifth to a quarter. I’m giving it a rating of 4.2 stars out of 5. On the whole, it is a rigorously researched work of historical fiction describing in minute details the emotional, sexual and political lives of the three leading actors who played pivotal roles in the French Revolution (Maximilien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges-Jacques Danton) and who were surrounded by a myriad cast of secondary characters; and the entangled and mind-boggling relations and interactions, sexual or political or otherwise, between the one and the other. In terms of crafting a spell-binding historical novel, Ms. Mantel is a talented storyteller who knows how to titillate her readers. I was particularly impressed with the last third of the book, where the irony of bad-outcome-from-good-intentions helps to build up hair-raising tension. Having said that, I still came away with a tinge of disappointment that the author chose to bypass the chance to examine some salient issues from the viewpoint of ordinary French folks (for example, the underlying reasons as to why they thought there was no better alternative than to resort to bloody violence; how the epochal ideological shift affected the average Parisian on the streets and what his/her reactions to that shift were). Set in one of the bloodiest and most tumultuous periods in French history, the novel no doubt gives a kaleidoscopic view of important historic events and personages. But the fictional elements of the novel tend to dwell interminably on Danton’s sexual and material voracity, Desmoulins’ bisexual perverseness and Robespierre’s frenzied self-abnegation. Couldn’t they have been simply hot-headed, starry-eyed young idealists who started out thinking it was their ineluctable duty to reform a rotten system in their beloved country, but ended up being sucked into the vortex of power addiction, which ultimately destroyed lives unnecessarily, including their own? If Robespierre’s ascetic traits were still credible, the salacity attributed to Danton and Desmoulins just seems to me to be a bit forced. All in all, this made for good complementary reading alongside Thomas Carlyle’s non-fiction title The French Revolution: A History, which I commenced reading before starting on Mantel’s novel. With these two books, I’m learning a lot about this cataclysmic phase in French history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Trudie

    My initial plan was to chip away at this revolutionary behemoth in delicate slivers over the course of a leisurely few months. I quickly determined the immense complexity of Mantels French Revolution is best experienced with a singular concentration. This beast is not for the faint hearted, not least because it is possible all 17,000 people guillotined feature in some way. I jest but this is no small cast of characters. Reading historical fiction is my way of learning about history without needin My initial plan was to chip away at this revolutionary behemoth in delicate slivers over the course of a leisurely few months. I quickly determined the immense complexity of Mantels French Revolution is best experienced with a singular concentration. This beast is not for the faint hearted, not least because it is possible all 17,000 people guillotined feature in some way. I jest but this is no small cast of characters. Reading historical fiction is my way of learning about history without needing to open a dry history text and in most cases my lack of familiarity with an era is not a limiting factor to enjoyment. Not so with A Place of Greater Safety, I would have benefitted from a history lesson. Mantel assumes if you are picking this up, then this is not your first time at the French Revolution rodeo. The landmark events, characters, and causes, while all obliquely dealt with are not always the focus of her attention. You are held captive to what the author decides to deep dive into. The Bastille falls in a page, Marie Antionette's is on trial, and gone in a paragraph, there is nary a mention of her outfits. Meanwhile, every speech, letter, and indiscretion leading up to the denouement of our three key characters : Camille Desmoulins, Georges-Jacques D’Anton, and Maximilen Robespierre is given eons of space. Undoubtedly, this is how it should be, but it took me a power of work to follow along with the progress of the revolution. It can be a tiring and wordy process overthrowing tyranny. This is a book in which I learnt more about politics and politicians than I did about the specifics of the French revolution. For readers coming from the Cromwell novels I would say this is a tougher, less accessible journey and you need to be prepared to put in some effort following shifting narratives, lengthy dialogues, and sometimes tedious attention to detail. However, I am finding it hard to rid myself of these three doomed patriots, Camile Desmoulins in particular. An entire review could be constructed with pithy asides from Camile, it is one of the novels delights. I can't think of another writer that can so inhabit the mindset of complex historical figures as Hilary Mantel - she is novelist, historian, psychologist, mind-reader, genius. ( It seems likely I will return to this book one day, armed with more historical knowledge and be a more astute reader for it. Meanwhile 4-stars for a novel that is undoubtably a 5-star masterpiece. )

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b068sjpb Description: 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. French Revolution Timeline Liberty Equality Fraternity Excellent dramatisation, Melissa Murray. Thanks you R4. Camille: Carl Prekopp Danton: Mark Stobbart Robespierre: Sam Troughton Narrator Lizzy Watts Narrator Paul Ritter Lucile Chloe Pirrie Ga http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b068sjpb Description: 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. French Revolution Timeline Liberty Equality Fraternity Excellent dramatisation, Melissa Murray. Thanks you R4. Camille: Carl Prekopp Danton: Mark Stobbart Robespierre: Sam Troughton Narrator Lizzy Watts Narrator Paul Ritter Lucile Chloe Pirrie Gabrielle Sarah Thom Mirabeau Sam Dale Adele Alex Tregear Annette Jessica Turner Herault Stephen Critchlow Brissot David Hounslow Nobleman Chris Pavlo Directed by Marc Beeby. 4* A Place of Greater Safety 4* Wolf Hall 4* Bring up the Bodies WL The Mirror and the Light 1* Beyond Black 2* The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

  16. 4 out of 5

    F.G. Cottam

    This novel is too long. It comes in at 872 pages in the paperback edition I read and some sections - like the description of the doomed but tedious Madame Roland - could have been cut without doing any damage to character, narrative or atmosphere. So why five stars? Simply because A Place of Greater Safety is such a magnificently imagined account of the French Revolutionary Terror that to give it fewer would be churlish and an injustice. The author takes three principle characters - all of them e This novel is too long. It comes in at 872 pages in the paperback edition I read and some sections - like the description of the doomed but tedious Madame Roland - could have been cut without doing any damage to character, narrative or atmosphere. So why five stars? Simply because A Place of Greater Safety is such a magnificently imagined account of the French Revolutionary Terror that to give it fewer would be churlish and an injustice. The author takes three principle characters - all of them elusive, ambivalent and hard for history to judge definitively - and gives them to us whole and utterly convincing at the centre of a series of the most tumultuous events in modern history. Hilary Mantel Really nails Danton, Desmoulins and most incredibly Robespierre - a man you sense was probably an enigma even to himself. You can't fault the scholarly research that informs this novel, but Mantel is such a gifted storyteller that it is a compulsive page-turner too. Heavy as it was at nearly 900 pages, I could barely put it down until it was finished.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    Mantel took on a huge challenge with this, her first book, set aside for twenty years before its eventual publication. The questions she asks are: at what moment in the political revolution in France is there no going back and, for her three main characters (Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre), ‘Is there a moment when life changes decisively, where there is absolutely no return to the person you were before, or the conditions as they were.' This leads to a further question: 'how an individual can Mantel took on a huge challenge with this, her first book, set aside for twenty years before its eventual publication. The questions she asks are: at what moment in the political revolution in France is there no going back and, for her three main characters (Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre), ‘Is there a moment when life changes decisively, where there is absolutely no return to the person you were before, or the conditions as they were.' This leads to a further question: 'how an individual can, by the force of their will, make themselves over into something or someone other'. Mantel believes that for Desmoulins there was a moment of transformation, when suddenly he becomes famous as a revolutionary actor. For Danton and Robespierre there is less a defining moment than a series of events that, rapidly or gradually, take them to situations they had not envisaged. Frequently they are pushed to respond to actions taken by others and eventually they lose control. The book ends with the show trials and execution of Desmoulins and Danton. Robespierre and Saint-Just, the principal driver of their downfall, followed them to the guillotine a few months later. The only safe place for the politically active under the rule of the Committee of Public Safety, was the grave - the place of greater safety of the title. The revolution's course was chaotic, especially in the years that concern Mantel. At first I found rapid scene changes and incomplete glimpses of political manoeuvrings difficult to keep track of. It was much easier to keep on reading once I accepted that this reflected the swirling chaos of the revolution itself and i stopped trying to keep all the details in my head as I went. None of the lead characters ever has a full view of what is happening either - nothing is ever quite what it seems; there are always layers and explosions of activity going on elsewhere. A glimpse is all we can have. I am quite familiar with the broad history of the French Revolution which helped me understand shifting allegiances and alliances. Nevertheless I felt I had to resort to an Encyclopedia and Norman Davies' mighty 'Europe, a History' from time to time to give myself some firm hooks of information. Next major read for me is Simon Schama's 'Citizens' which has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting for several years. As others have noted, this complex work of historical fiction is the clear stylistic fore-runner to Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, in which Mantel addresses the same big questions that interested her here. In the more recent books, her mastery of great quantities of historical information is integrated more seamlessly into strong, compelling narrative. It took me two months to read 'Place of Greater Safety', giving myself breaks in between bursts. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies I read in days.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Sigh. Good, but not quite Wolf Hall (though you can see the roots of it, stylistically), and there are just so many people in it... I had to put it aside to read the history of the Caucasus, for some clarity and light relief, which tells you something. Back into it now. EDIT: crawling painfully towards the finish. Every word, phrase, paragraph is inspired, but my god, in the whole, it's a drag. EDIT: Halleluja. I really struggled with this (and always develop an irrational antipathy towards books t Sigh. Good, but not quite Wolf Hall (though you can see the roots of it, stylistically), and there are just so many people in it... I had to put it aside to read the history of the Caucasus, for some clarity and light relief, which tells you something. Back into it now. EDIT: crawling painfully towards the finish. Every word, phrase, paragraph is inspired, but my god, in the whole, it's a drag. EDIT: Halleluja. I really struggled with this (and always develop an irrational antipathy towards books that block me). I came to it because I love Hilary Mantel and because Pure, on a smallish corner of the Revolution, left me very flat and wanting some real, historical detail and some internal lives. No question that this provided mountains of both... but just too much, until it became a cacophony of interiors. Seriously, pruning shears, editors! The voices (remarkably similar to Cromwell's? or can't I say that??) are individually strong but just about all the same (except for Robespierre and Annette, and one or two other women who I forget now) and there are janky passages that don't seem true - or maybe I was missing the tone, hardly a wonder as it's rather choppy. Really I should read it again but that is not going to happen until I am marooned with my kindle and have read and re-read everything else. Despite this, the building of suppressed terror and chaos - a la Stalinist Russia - is undeniable, and I still think Hilary is a rare and wonderful writer... but this (her first, long-unpublished book) is the working out of her superb talent, rather than the flourishing of it. Those who rate it more highly than I do - I'd be interested to know how you see past these difficulties to the superior book that is undoubtedly behind them.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Warning: I don't add spoilers to history or historical fiction. Everyone dies! Look it up! That the French Revolution happened seems amazing, more astounding than the American Revolution (colonies revolting against a distant king seems rather predictable). It’s no easy feat to topple a monarchy. You need well-placed folks with charisma and a savvy outreach program. "A Place of Greater Safety" follows three key figures of the revolution from childhood to the guillotine (though one ekes out a few Warning: I don't add spoilers to history or historical fiction. Everyone dies! Look it up! That the French Revolution happened seems amazing, more astounding than the American Revolution (colonies revolting against a distant king seems rather predictable). It’s no easy feat to topple a monarchy. You need well-placed folks with charisma and a savvy outreach program. "A Place of Greater Safety" follows three key figures of the revolution from childhood to the guillotine (though one ekes out a few more months). There’s the macho Danton, the dashing bisexual Camille Desmoulins, and the idealistic ascetic Robespierre. There’s also Camille’s sympathetic wife Lucile and her mother Annette, Marat, known to me before this book only for dying in a bathtub, and the jerk with the great name, Saint-Just. There are plenty of bad guys but the consolation is that pretty much that the guillotine comes down on everyone at some point. Adieu! There are many many other characters. It was hard to keep track of who was who, especially since I entered knowing very little about the French Revolution. The guys whose names began with H were pretty much “the guys whose names begin with H.” Luckily there’s a list of characters at the beginning, though it’s not Hugely useful. A more diligent reader would have taken notes. I resorted to secondary sources and the Revolutions podcast series. Build yourself a little scaffold of background and you’ll get through this just fine. Two interesting things I learned: 1) I hadn’t realised the French were the Euro champions of waving heads around on pikes. Whoa. As brutal and primitive as it gets! Nothing to be proud of, that. 2) This isn’t really covered in the book, it’s just assumed you know (I didn’t), but the revolution created its own calendar with the months renamed and the weeks rejigged and it was really quite marvelous, if evocative of North Korea. It might help you forget those heads thrust onto pikes. I admire Mantel’s writing. Of course she’s imagining most of this based on the particulars of people’s lives and the events of the revolution. But she does make it lively. She does breathe into it. Her story is very much character-based. Camille is so quick-witted. You can see clearly what each character lacks. The end scene at the guillotine is excellent. Then there’s the very last scene, recalling Robespierre’s childhood, and comparing reimagining history through fiction to tatting: One day, a long time ago, his mother sat by window, making lace. The broad morning light streamed in on both of them. He saw it was the gaps that were important, the spaces between the threads which made the pattern, and not the threads themselves. ‘Show me how to do it,’ he said. ‘I want to learn.’ ‘Boys don’t do it,’ she said. Her face was composed; her work continued. His throat closed at the exclusion. Now, whenever he looks at a piece of lace —even though his eyes are bad— he seems to see every thread in the work. I really enjoyed this and think it’s almost as good as Mantel’s Wolf Hall, but not quite. Maybe if she’d split this dense book in two …? Or three…? It really is quite long, and there are plenty of gaps not yet filled in.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Philip Allan

    At its worst, historical fiction can be little more than a modern tale in fancy dress. But when it is well researched, and the author has a passion for their period, it can shine a light into the past that is more illuminating than factual history. This was true for me when I read Hilary Mantel’s brilliant account of four young men, swept up by the French Revolution. I came away with a much deeper understanding of the events than I had ever gained from historical study. Mantel’s style is not to At its worst, historical fiction can be little more than a modern tale in fancy dress. But when it is well researched, and the author has a passion for their period, it can shine a light into the past that is more illuminating than factual history. This was true for me when I read Hilary Mantel’s brilliant account of four young men, swept up by the French Revolution. I came away with a much deeper understanding of the events than I had ever gained from historical study. Mantel’s style is not to everyone’s taste, and this account is a little long at times, but if you have enjoyed the vastly more popular Wolf Hall, you should have no difficulty with this earlier work.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Felicia

    Very cool history of the French Revolution told in a fictionalized style. The insight of the author into human behavior, and the fullness she gives these vivid yet dry characters from history is amazing! Truly a great book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    An earlier taste of Hilary Mantel's dark fascination with individuals who lose their heads. This isn't quite as accomplished the Cromwell novels. The focus is more fidgety. It's an aspect of writing I suspect she learned a lot about while writing this novel with its huge historical canvas. The story of the French revolution is here told through two of its chief protagonists, Danton, Robespierre and a lesser known friend of theirs called Camille Desmoulins. And it's Camille and his wife Lucile wh An earlier taste of Hilary Mantel's dark fascination with individuals who lose their heads. This isn't quite as accomplished the Cromwell novels. The focus is more fidgety. It's an aspect of writing I suspect she learned a lot about while writing this novel with its huge historical canvas. The story of the French revolution is here told through two of its chief protagonists, Danton, Robespierre and a lesser known friend of theirs called Camille Desmoulins. And it's Camille and his wife Lucile who become the stars of the show. Hilary lavishes as much love on Camille and Lucile as she would later do with Cromwell. And as was the case with Cromwell she uses Camille's enemies to crank up the dramatic tension. The baddie in this book is Antoine Saint-Just, known to history as the "angel of death" and boy does Mantel get you hating him! A Place of Greater Safety is an utterly compelling, exciting and moving way of immersing yourself in the events and mechanics of the French Revolution. And underneath all the high drama it's also a story of betrayed friendship, personified here by Robespierre.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    I will review more tomorrow. Just too much. Mantel is amazing. The book was too long. Not as good as her Cromwell cycle, but still, dear GOD can Mantel write and subvert history. I walked away from this book, I think, in love with three enfants terrible of the French Revolution. It really is true, I think, that to know someone is to love them. In someways telling the history of the French revolution is perfect using these three men. It is like Mantel places the ID (Danton), EGO (Desmoulins), and I will review more tomorrow. Just too much. Mantel is amazing. The book was too long. Not as good as her Cromwell cycle, but still, dear GOD can Mantel write and subvert history. I walked away from this book, I think, in love with three enfants terrible of the French Revolution. It really is true, I think, that to know someone is to love them. In someways telling the history of the French revolution is perfect using these three men. It is like Mantel places the ID (Danton), EGO (Desmoulins), and Super-EGO (Robespierre, of course) of the French Revolution together and the story almost writes itself. Anyway, I've got way more to write, but it is damn late. And, even knowing the end, the sharp end of history still bites.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    Once upon a time Hillary Mantel took creative writing classes. The teacher asked the class what they wanted to get out of the class, apart from Mantel, everybody wanted to make a living writing for women's magazines, she however wanted to write a big serious novel about the French revolution. Very impressive and enjoyable historical novel that runs up to the fall of Danton from the childhood of some of the leading revolutionaries, and their interrelations in the years in between. I don't remember Once upon a time Hillary Mantel took creative writing classes. The teacher asked the class what they wanted to get out of the class, apart from Mantel, everybody wanted to make a living writing for women's magazines, she however wanted to write a big serious novel about the French revolution. Very impressive and enjoyable historical novel that runs up to the fall of Danton from the childhood of some of the leading revolutionaries, and their interrelations in the years in between. I don't remember much of it in detail, but it was big, vivid, and informed a voyage through ideas, ideals and scattering dreams, a fantastic immersive reading experience.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nick Pageant

    This is highly recommended for history buffs. Hilary Mantel is a phenomenal writer. She made me believe she was there and saw. Good stuff.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Pei Pei

    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, b 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.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joy D

    This is a novel about the French Revolution – so we know how it ends and we know it will be full of blood and references to beheadings. It is a sweeping saga with no lack of dramatic events, from the optimism of the early Revolution to the horrors of the Terror. Mantel tells the story through character studies of the lives, personalities, and social interactions of three primary drivers of the Revolution: Georges-Jacques Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Maximilien Robespierre. She follows them fr This is a novel about the French Revolution – so we know how it ends and we know it will be full of blood and references to beheadings. It is a sweeping saga with no lack of dramatic events, from the optimism of the early Revolution to the horrors of the Terror. Mantel tells the story through character studies of the lives, personalities, and social interactions of three primary drivers of the Revolution: Georges-Jacques Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Maximilien Robespierre. She follows them from their childhood friendships to their deaths. It is a novel about the abuse of power – first the monarchy, then those who overthrew the monarchy, as they turn on each other in an attempt to achieve or maintain power. One thing is certain. When civil rights are suspended, nothing good is going to come out of it. The characters are fabulous. They are deeply drawn, and the reader gains psychological insights into what motivates them. It helped me understand the roles of these people in the French Revolution, of which I had a cursory knowledge beforehand. I cared so much about one of the characters that I could hardly bear to read what happened to him even though I knew what was coming. It is long (750 pages) and took me a quite a while to read. It is very well-constructed and, for me, worth the effort. It is the type of historical novel that I enjoy – heavy on the history. It is not a historical romance, though we do get to know the personal stories of the wives and paramours of the main characters. This book was written well before the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light), but the writing style is similar, so if you like those books, you will probably like this one. I switched back and forth between a hard copy and audio. The audio is particularly helpful for non-French speakers to hear the proper pronunciations. The reader, Jonathan Keeble, does a brilliant job with the narration, voices, and pacing. It is one of the best audio performances I have heard. It was helpful to switch to the physical book for the more gruesome and tragic parts. 4.5

  28. 4 out of 5

    Klaus

    I don't care if Danton gets to fuck Desmoulins’s wife before he dies or not. Hilary Mantel removes the historical epicness of the French Revolution and reduces it to its very human core by showing her readers the detailed day-to-day actions and discussions of three of its most important figureheads. Unfortunately, there were way too many details for me. This was the literary equivalent to Assassin's Creed: Unity in making the French Revolution, one of the most fascinating eras of history, boring I don't care if Danton gets to fuck Desmoulins’s wife before he dies or not. Hilary Mantel removes the historical epicness of the French Revolution and reduces it to its very human core by showing her readers the detailed day-to-day actions and discussions of three of its most important figureheads. Unfortunately, there were way too many details for me. This was the literary equivalent to Assassin's Creed: Unity in making the French Revolution, one of the most fascinating eras of history, boring for me. For me, a historian. This should've been the equivalent of porn for me, instead it was... I don't even know what it was. Though well-written, Mantel’s prose is nowhere near as brilliant as it was in the Wolf Hall trilogy, not a single one of her protagonists was able to fascinate me as much as her Thomas Cromwell, the dialogue was basic and sometimes even irritating. And the book is, quite simply, way too long. Various literary techniques and switches of narrative tone and perspective are sprinkled throughout a novel that failed to capture my attention for over a month. Of course, I've been in a reading slump for two months, so that might also be another reason why I didn't enjoy this book as much as I expected. I might finish it at a later point in the future, but for now it's a DNF at 66% for me. --- Dialogue 3 Setting 3 Characters 2 Prose 4 Plot 1 Pacing 2 Personal Enjoyment 2 4.8/10; 2 stars.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Todd Smalley

    This review is an absolute rave about this book. I actually had to knock a couple of other books down out of 5-star ratings because the gap between APoGS and the other books was too wide to be in the same rating group. I picked it up, not knowing (or caring) much about the French Revolution, after enjoying Mantel's Wolf Hall immensely. I now feel I understand a great deal about the revolution, and had a wonderful time getting there. The most compelling part of this book is Mantel's means of stor This review is an absolute rave about this book. I actually had to knock a couple of other books down out of 5-star ratings because the gap between APoGS and the other books was too wide to be in the same rating group. I picked it up, not knowing (or caring) much about the French Revolution, after enjoying Mantel's Wolf Hall immensely. I now feel I understand a great deal about the revolution, and had a wonderful time getting there. The most compelling part of this book is Mantel's means of storytelling, which moves things along at a rapid pace. She focuses much less on the What and much more on the Who, the Why and the How. The beheading of the queen is, um, disposed of in but two paragraphs, for example, and many times what might seem to be a major event is left undescribed, saved for the reader to learn in later dialogue and in context of how it affected the characters and the sweep of events. I found this technique surprising at first but later came to relish it as a satisfying puzzle. The three main characters - Danton, Desmoullins, and Robespierre - are richly drawn, and to a purpose: their motivations, strengths, and weaknesses had major impact on the French Revolution, and thus, on world history. I don't think I've ever read a book that so clearly draws the connections between interior lives and world events. To keep things lively, as well as true to life, Mantel includes plenty of what often makes a good novel: ambition, sex, friendship, betrayal, birth and death. You will note Mantel's unusual writing style, full of things that shouldn't work but do, things that shouldn't be allowed, but are. She switches the narrative voice from third (sometimes omniscient) to several different firsts, and even disarmingly talks directly to the reader at a couple of points. She uses colons in unusual ways, but you get what she means. She brings in tables of information, such as inflation rates for goods like bread, and direct quotations from historical documents. She switches from conventional dialogue to script-like format throughout the book. All of it is clearly the work of a careful writer telling a complex tale. Be warned: this is a long book, it is a dense book, and it has many characters (the character list up front is helpful). I found myself googling place names in France and looking up the characters and events in Wikipedia. Some reviewers see this additional effort as a downside requirement to enjoying the book, but I looked at it the other way: Mantel made the French Revolution and the characters so interesting, I wanted to know more - a lot more - than she could pack into an 800+ page book. That kind of spark of interest is a rare gift, which left me wishing Mantel could explain so many more moments of history in her engaging style. In short it takes some work, even as you're enjoying it. But the rewards are great. Now, when can I go to Paris?

  30. 4 out of 5

    John Bellamy

    It is fate of great and prolific authors to be judged by their better or best books. Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge and Hard Times suffer by comparison with David Copperfield and Great Expectations, while Charlotte Bronte’s Villette and Shirley remain ugly literary stepsisters in the seductive company of Miss Jane Eyre. And such is likely to be the fate of Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. True, it’s as great and entertaining a novel as has ever been written about the French Revolution, It is fate of great and prolific authors to be judged by their better or best books. Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge and Hard Times suffer by comparison with David Copperfield and Great Expectations, while Charlotte Bronte’s Villette and Shirley remain ugly literary stepsisters in the seductive company of Miss Jane Eyre. And such is likely to be the fate of Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. True, it’s as great and entertaining a novel as has ever been written about the French Revolution, not excepting either Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Victor Hugo’s Ninety-Three or any of the Baroness Orczy’s breathless Scarlet Pimpernel gasconades. And it has everything a superlative historical novel should have: a profound but lightly worn knowledge of its historical period, a dazzling talent for vivid and ingratiating characterization, an enviable skill at contriving witty and revealing dialogue and enough sardonic irony for at least a dozen novels. But Hilary Mantel isn’t just any historical novelist—she’s the authoress of Wolf Hall, the most accomplished performance in that genre of the last decade. Wonderful as A Place is, it is likely to forever dwell in the shade of her later imaginative feat. That’s a shame, especially when you consider that Mantel’s challenge in A Place—undertaken nearly two decades before Wolf Hall—was an even greater task than her improbable triumph of making the dubious Thomas Cromwell (Thomas Cromwell!—the brutal historical strong-arm heavy in the melodrama of King Henry VIII’s Reformation!) the hero of Wolf Hall. Readers of A Place will soon discover that her daring with Cromwell was as nothing compared to her courage in dealing with the blood-drenched heavies of the French Revolution: Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and a host of others. Forget your Carlyle, dismiss your Dickens and you can even throw your copy of Simon Schama’s Citizens out the window for the nonce, or at least as long as it takes you to read Mantel’s thrilling narrative. The only caveat here—especially directed at enthusiasts of Wolf Hall—is that Place is a volume demanding considerably more patience of the reader. Mantel’s French Revolution is a much wider canvas than her English Reformation, and it lacks a character either as central or sympathetic as her Thomas Cromwell. Her trio of primary characters here are not only presented warts-and-all but with those warts indissolubly fused with their virtues. In summary: a wonderful fictional rollercoaster ride through the French Revolution but a comparatively denser read (750 pp.) for Mantel fans captivated by the more uncluttered narrative line of Wolf Hall. I must confess that it took me nearly seven weeks to get through it and it didn't ignite my enthusiasm until about page 400--but after that it's a terrific and unmitigated pleasure.

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