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A Place of Greater Safety [Paperback]

Hilary Mantel
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 14 2006
It is 1789, and three young provincials have come to Paris to make their way. Georges-Jacques Danton, an ambitious young lawyer, is energetic, pragmatic, debt-ridden--and hugely but erotically ugly. Maximilien Robespierre, also a lawyer, is slight, diligent, and terrified of violence. His dearest friend, Camille Desmoulins, is a conspirator and pamphleteer of genius. A charming gadfly, erratic and untrustworthy, bisexual and beautiful, Camille is obsessed by one woman and engaged to marry another, her daughter. In the swells of revolution, they each taste the addictive delights of power, and the price that must be paid for it.

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From Amazon

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"History is fiction," Robespierre observes at one point during British writer Mantel's monumental fictive account of the French Revolution, her first work to appear in this country. In her hands, it is a spellbinding read. Mantel recounts the events between the fall of the ancien regime and the peak of the Terror as seen through the eyes of the three protagonists--Robespierre, Danton and Desmoulins--and a huge cast of supporting characters (including brief appearances by the scrofulous Marat). The three revolutionaries, longtime acquaintances, spend their days scheming and fighting for a corruption-free French Republic, but their definitions of "corrupt" are as different as the men themselves. Robespierre is the fulcrum. Rigidly puritanical, he is able to strike terror into the most stalwart of hearts, and his implacable progress towards his goal makes him the most formidable figure of the age. As the lusty, likable and ultimately more democratic Danton observes, it is impossible to hurt anyone who enjoys nothing. The feckless, charming Camille Desmoulins, loved by all but respected by few, dances between the two, writing incendiary articles to keep the flames of revolt alive. Mantel makes use of diaries, letters, transcripts and her own creative imagination to create vivid portraits of the three men, their families, friends and the character of their everyday lives. Her gift is such that we hang on to every word, following bewildering arguments and Byzantine subplots with eager anticipation. This is historical fiction of the first order. History Book Club, QPB and BOMC alternates.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book June 12 2003
I first read this book when I was a senior in high school ten years ago. I was really interested in the French Revolution and all the personalities involved. This book was a beautifully written, sensitive and accurate portrait of the tragic figures of the Revolution. She knew things about Robespierre I thought only I knew that I had read in dusty old volumes you can't even get access to anymore. I remember in the forward she says "if it seems too unlikely to be true it probably is", and that's definitely the case. It was a very touching book and really brilliant in a number of ways. Mantel really understands the eighteenth-century mind better than most authors I've read. Now I'm getting my Ph.D. in history and looking into that period in even more depth! Get this book even if you aren't a history buff, though. It's a great read even if you don't know the first thing about history.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The historical novel at its finest June 30 1998
By A Customer
Mantel's very absorbing novel is good for two reasons. First, it evokes an excellent sense of time, of place, and of events, during the French Revolution. Possibly more than any historical work about the events of the Revolution, this novel captures the true zeitgeist of the times. Second, and closely linked to the first reason, is the author's vivid depiction of three characters - Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins - as living, breathing, sinning creatures. Above all is the author's suggestion of the randomness of events, what we now proclaim History. Revolutions produce upheaval: they displace, promote or overthrow people. And as in life, the author ultimately suggests, we all seek that one thing: a place of greater safety. This book verges on an imperfect brilliance.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Mantel first impressed me with her vivid characterization of an historical figure in "Wolf Hall", so, when I read up on some of her earlier works, "A Place of Greater Safety" seemed right up her alley. Focusing on three major players in the days leading up to the French Revolution--Desmoulins, Danton and Robespierre--Mantel brought that ability she showed in "Wolf Hall" (that attracted the Man-Booker Prize jurors) to bear almost as well in this much earlier novel: she seems to see into and through the eyes of the personalities of characters who remain for most of us flat and factual, dates, speeches and actions only. I've taught "A Tale of Two Cities" any number of times and Dickens does bring fictitious players of the same era to life. But though I've read significant background to prepare for that teaching, it never occurred to me to imagine how and why Desmoulins stood on the tavern table one significant day. And though the movie "Danton" with Gerard Depardieu gave us a somewhat glorified glimpse into the final and public days of the breakdown of the relationship between that important figure of the Revolution and Robespierre, Mantel, by shifting 3rd-person narration between the three (and extending it to wives, lovers, cuckolded husbands etc.), shows us how three almost-ordinary men found themselves, step-by-small-step, at the centre of something extraordinary and beyond their control.

She says herself that she allows herself the fiction writer's liberties after she has absorbed the facts: she fleshes out the bones with details of muscle and blood that history does not tell us. And she does so so well--as with Thomas Cromwell--because she is a sensitive observer of the human mind and heart.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History as fiction April 13 2011
As the revolutionaries develop their society, the events they set in motion and the ideas they espouse set off a serious of violent events that will ultimately devour them. Mantel gets us inside their heads and creates understanding of these fascinating people without letting them off the hook for their errors, in spite of their ideals.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insert Wordsworth quote here. June 4 2004
I have just finished this book, so all of my retrospective observations are still a bit shaky. That said, I cannot yet criticize this novel successfully from any angle. If there is any qualification to make, it is that, really, you need to devote a good week to it: about four to read, and three to get back to a person your friends will recognize.

I came about this book by way of an article Mantel had written in "The London Review", loosely tied to the release of Colin Haydon's edited collection of essays on Robespierre. By the end of the article, I was very much the worst neighbor in my apartment building- I did not stop reading or turn off my light for the next two nights.

After seven years of English and Journalism classes, I can not figure out why Mantel's name did not come up once. There is nothing extraneous here, nothing fantastic to the point of unbelievability. The characters mature and change and determine and repel each other. No one is a saint nor, with one minor exception, do they deserve their sentences. In her Camille Desmoulins -for the majority of the novel, at least- there is a great literary archetype of exuberant, youthful egotism. At first, we blame him for nothing, then everything. At the last, he looks disturbingly like his reader.

Danton, by the same turn, starts out in much the vein of Stanislawa Przybyszewka's Georges-Jacques, the big lug. He is admirable as one true to his own interests if nothing else. Then, in one of the most skilled revelations in the literature I've read, his true, unwavering dedication to the principle behind the whole big mess he has helped create is fully uncovered, and too late. There are plenty of places to cry big, philosophical tears in this book.

There are plenty of places to laugh, too.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars but I was so disappointed that after two attempts
Well written, but I was so disappointed that after two attempts, could not get into it. This is particularly unfortunate since I devoured Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.
Published 10 days ago by Cheryl Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow
What a dense and interesting book. I have learned so much. Want to read more about the French Revolution now.
Published 11 months ago by Jean Clegg
1.0 out of 5 stars The doll's house syndrome
My mistake was, after my enthusiastic reading of Wolf Hall, to order both Bring up the Bodies and A Place of Greater Safety. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Pop Powl
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
The copy of "A Place of Greater Safety" that I purchased was described as "used", but was much more dog-eared than I had expected. Read more
Published 21 months ago by David Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificient Study of the Terrible Cross Currents of History
Recognizing that it took Mantel a painfully long time to bring this book to publication, I am glad she eventually prevailed. Read more
Published on Sept. 24 2012 by Ian Gordon Malcomson
5.0 out of 5 stars a perfect escape for the bloodthirsty
Mantel's dark humor shines through in this marvelous, fully fleshed novel of the French Revolution. From the incredibly seductive Demoulins couple and the forceful Danton to the... Read more
Published on Sept. 2 2001 by Clea Simon
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable
This is one of the rare novels of historical fiction that completely captures the true spirit and essence of its subject. Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2000 by Elizabeth N.
2.0 out of 5 stars A Study in confusion
The idea of this novel is quite a good one; to depict the French Revolution from inside the private lives and thoughts of the revolutionaries. Read more
Published on Oct. 6 2000 by Bernard C. Persson
5.0 out of 5 stars A sweeping masterpiece
This is quite likely ther greatest historical fiction ever written about the French Revolution.
It follows the careers of three of the revolution's architects - Georges... Read more
Published on Aug. 22 2000 by Kellyannl
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