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A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
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A Place of Greater Safety (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Hilary Mantel

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Member:fsway
Title:A Place of Greater Safety
Authors:Hilary Mantel
Info:Atheneum (1993), Hardcover, 749 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:no safety anywhere, read 11-12

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A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (1992)

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A Place of Greater Safety is a devastating account of the French Revolution, told by a galaxy of voices, both in the words and thoughts Hilary Mantel puts into their mouths and minds, and in the words that they themselves left recorded for posterity, along with extracts from contemporary books and newspapers. The chief protagonists are the triumvirate at the heart of the Revolution - three ambitious young lawyers, Maximilien Robespierre, George-Jacques Danton and Camille Desmoulins whose involvement in revolutionary politics takes them to the height of power, but power, of course, corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see the Terror justified by the men who instigated it and the whole horror of a society where casual violence and state terror rule, and friendship finally counts for nothing. Mantel perfectly captures the fervour of this tumultuous time, and her vast supporting cast - particularly the women behind the revolutionaries - wives, mothers and lovers as well as those who took an active part in the debate and fought violently for their new society. We know the ending - the three will fall victim to their own revolution - but that does nothing to distill the power and the humanity of the writing ( )
  DauntlessGirl | Jan 12, 2014 |
So far I have avoided all the Mantel brouhaha because, as I think it was Rebeccanyc who said: 'I can't read a historical novel written in the present simple', and I'm so over the Tudors. But A Place of Greater Safety is a magnificent novel.

The story is so well known, and so well studied, and has elicited greatness from so many writers- Carlyle, Lefebvre, Lamartine, Buchner - that it's hard to know what a historical novel can add to our understanding of the Revolution. Mantel focuses on the relationship between the three main protagonists of the Revolution: Danton, Desmoulins, and Robespierre, emphasizing the domestic, personal relations between them, as well the political ones: Desmoulins and Robespierre were best friends at school together, and Danton and Desmoulin were rumoured to be sharing the same woman.

The novel focuses as well on the secondary characters, those who get short shrift in histories of the Revolution, especially the women, bringing to life such characters as Madame Roland, Anne Theroigne, Lucille Desmoulins, and Danton’s second, child wife. Mantel is an excellent describer of character; she has mastered the very difficult trick of describing change in character, but the character is still recognizably one and the same. This is especially notable in the portrayal of Lucille Desmoulins, whom we first encounter as silly young girl, and whom we leave as a mature and noble Revolutionary on the way to the scaffold; and also in the portrayal of Louise Gely, whom we first meet as a child living upstairs from the Dantons, and whom we leave as her husband is arrested.

The Revolution was as much a revolution of lawyers and writing as it was of storming Bastilles and setting palaces alight, and Mantel includes portions of writings from the main characters, minutes from meetings of the Jacobin club, and trial transcripts. I would have liked more of these, especially the writings from Desmoulins, the greatest writer of them all, and perhaps a more clearly marked sense of chronology: the Revolution was so fast that events whirl past in a wind, and it's hard to keep up with what’s happening when sometimes. Mantel includes nice gestures to her predecessors. Carlyle called Robespierre the ‘seagreen Robespierre’, and in one scene Danton is sitting alone at the green baize covered table in the Committee of Public Safety, and the color of the cloth reminds him, sickeningly, of Robespierre.

Mantel has no axe to grind, no theory of history, unless it be that the quotidian has just as much influence on great events as politics and public life does.

A top notch historical novel, fast paced, realistic, and unbearably suspenseful, even though you know what’s going to happen next.

Robespierre to the Jacobins:

The more you isolate me, the more you cut off all my human contacts, the more justification I find in my own conscience, and in the justice of my cause.

Camille Desmoulins to Lucille Desmoulins:

I have walked for five years along the precipices of the Revolution without falling, and I am still living. I dreamt of the republic which the world would have adored; I could never have believed that men could be so ferocious and so unjust. ( )
15 vote tomcatMurr | Oct 17, 2013 |
Undoubtedly her best novel still. I read this some time ago, but I feel I should add it here, just to remind myself. ( )
  iamamro | Oct 16, 2013 |
I don't think this was a good choice for me as more or less my first book (that I can remember) about the French revolution: I kept thinking the book assumed I knew who the people were, what the gossip and criticism are, and I didn't have that context, from history lessons or elsewhere. I'll be looking for something else to read about the French revolution though, now I'm more intrigued than I was before.

Another thing that bothered me with this book was the feeling that everything happened on the surface, that the characters didn't have any depth. And when you're feeling like that when reading a book that has over 850 pages, it's definitely a problem. ( )
  mari_reads | Aug 4, 2013 |
This book is a huge undertaking (and not at all a good poolside read). I like historical fiction, but this is FOR REAL historical fiction. At times, I had to stop reading and Google what was happening so that I could keep up. During the two weeks it took me to read (which is VERY unusual), I also took breaks and read lighter books because the French Revolution is definitely HEAVY. The many different POVs were also daunting. Overall, it's a very interesting book...but it doesn't make me want to read Wolf Hall anytime soon. ( )
  melissarochelle | Apr 11, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hilary Mantelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Keeble, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Clare Boylan
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Now that the dust has settled, we can begin to look at our situation.
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Burning is not answering (Camille quoting Rousseau)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Haiku summary
Robespierre, Danton
And Desmoulins: children of
The revolution.
(passion4reading)
Regicide, mayhem,
Chaos. The revolution
Devours her children.
(passion4reading)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312426399, Paperback)

As 19th-century novelists Alexandre Dumas and Charles Dickens both discovered, the French Revolution makes for great drama. This lesson has not been lost on Hilary Mantel, whose A Place of Greater Safety brings a 20th-century sensibility to the stirring events of 1789. Mantel's approach is nothing if not ambitious: her three main characters, Georges-Jacques Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, and Camille Desmoulins, happen to have been major players in the early days of the revolution--men whose mix of ambition, idealism, and ego helped unleash the Terror and brought them eventually to their own tragic ends. As Mantel points out in her forward, none of these men was famous before the revolution; thus not a great deal is known about their early lives. What would constrain the biographer, however, is an open invitation to the fiction writer to let the imagination run wild; thus Mantel freely extrapolates from what is known of her protagonists' personalities and relationships with each other to construct their pasts.

This is a huge, complex novel, but the author has done her homework. Though Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins are at the center of her story, they are by no means the only major characters who populate the novel. Mantel uses historical figures as well as fictional ones to provide different points of view on the story. As she moves from one to the next, her narrative voice changes back and forth from first to third person as she sometimes grants us access to her characters' deepest thoughts and feelings, and other times keeps us guessing. A Place of Greater Safety is a happy marriage of literary and historical fiction, and a bona fide page-turner, as well. --Margaret Prior

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:50 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

With A Place of Greater Safety Hilary Mantel makes her American debut in a dazzling and magisterial novel about one of the most crucial - and shattering - events in modern history, the French Revolution. Already acclaimed in ber native England, this hook should provoke an equally enthusiastic response from readers on this side of tbe Atlantic. At the center of this bold epic are three men who led the revolt against the tyrannies and injustices of the Ancien Regime: Georges-Jacques Danton, an ugly, ambitious, and charismatic spokesman; Maximilien Robespierre, slight, precise, wishing to do good for others; and their friend, Camille Desmoulins, an inveterate conspirator pamphleteer, and seducer (obsessed for years by a married woman, he eventually marries - he's not sure how - her daughter). Three young men of obscure origins from the provinces, all make their way to Paris, where, in 1787, they will be presented with - and will seize - the opportunity to transform their world. Surrounding these men are their friends, their families and lovers, as well as the famous figures and events that Mantel has so brilliantly depicted...Louis XVI and his decadent court, Mirabeau and Marat, the Marquis de Lafayette and the Marquis de Sade, Saint-Just and Choderlos de Laclos, the Committee of Public Safety, the Mountain, the Gironde, the Sans-culottes and Dr. Guillotin's machine. Having unleashed the forces of revolution in the name of liberty and happiness, Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins will become witnesses to, participants in, and, eventually, victims of an uncontrollable escalating spiral of rage and need, terror and violence. An audacious, informed, and encompassing portrayal of the genuine achievements and the harrowing tragedy of the French Revolution, Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety is fiction on a grand scale and in the grand tradition.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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