8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book
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...
Published on June 12 2003 by Alexandra T. Schultz
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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. The sense of the revolution or the amabiance is created but the writing in terms of simple rules of identifying whoever is speaking, thinking or being talked about is so abysmally neglected that the reader spends too much time...
Published on Oct. 6 2000 by Bernard C. Persson
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book,
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The historical novel at its finest,
By A Customer
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent on Detail, Historical Figures Brought to Life,
This review is from: A Place of Greater Safety (Paperback)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. Each of the three is distinctly different; I have no doubt that their essential actions and speeches are historically correct. Though specialists quibble that she cannot know what Robespierre was thinking on the day Danton came to his spartan rooms to beg for the safety of Desmoulins--or perhaps even if he did--his thoughts and motives are entirely consistent with the Danton she has created in this huge and engrossing book, and it is entirely logically that the Robespierre she has created would reject Danton's gesture. As with Cromwell, I feel as if I know them; I feel as if I understand what drove them on to their respective fates. This book is elegant, intellectually stimulating and yet vivid and real. She is not able, perhaps, at this stage in her writing career--or maybe doesn't have the space--to make each man as vibrantly real as Thomas Cromwell. But it is the book that predicted where Mantel would go. I highly recommend "A Place of Greater Safety"; though, because of its size, it was hard to pick up, it was impossible to put down.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History as fiction,
This review is from: A Place of Greater Safety (Paperback)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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magnificient Study of the Terrible Cross Currents of History,
This review is from: Place Of Greater Safety (Paperback)Recognizing that it took Mantel a painfully long time to bring this book to publication, I am glad she eventually prevailed. Her inaugural work of historical fiction is definitely a winner in so many ways, paving the road to her ultimate success as an internationally acclaimed novelist with two subsequent excellent works. To start things off, she has chosen the French Revolution - one of those most dramatic and baffling periods in modern times - as her subject. While there is a lot of material available to aspiring authors on this most calamitous of times, she has chosen to view it through a different prism than is traditionally available to historians: personalities rather than ideas in collision. On this score, she has plenty to work with within the traditional ranks of the old regime versus the republican cause, but has chosen instead to take the more difficult course and look at three seeming allies within the latter movement. From the individual lives of fellow revolutionaries Danton, Robespierre, and Desmoulins, she weaves a fascinating tale of intrigue, dare, innovation and treachery emerging from relationships borne out of a desire for revolutionary change. All three of these exceptional men came from provincial backgrounds that did not seem to appreciate the potential abilities in oratory, writing, and reasoning to change the world for the better. As Mantel's story progresses, these three young men move to Paris to seek professional careers in a place that lives and breathes humanity. Invariably, Paris, in all its appealing glory and deplorable ugliness, will turn them and their kind into passionate and ruthless revolutionaries who will learn to kill on principle alone. Interwoven in this journey of dangerous enlightenment is the role that very special women play in helping to bring these careers to a tragic end. While Gabrielle, Lucille and Adele are often seen as naively complicit in and, at times, sadly overwhelmed by their men's phenomenal rise to power during the early days of the revolution, they come across as noble in their steadfast loyalty to the bitter end and a desire to protect them from harm. The underlying irony in this whole drama is that while ideas and ideals can initially foment a sense of greater freedom and equality, they also possess the terrible capacity to destroy those who get in the way because of differences of opinion, personal failings, and individual wants. In the midst of political revolution, as described here, there are few safe places to hide. This work of fiction is a wonderful reminder that no history can truly be understood without first examining the lives of its main participants.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Study in confusion,
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow,
This review is from: A Place of Greater Safety (Paperback)What a dense and interesting book. I have learned so much. Want to read more about the French Revolution now.
1.0 out of 5 stars The doll's house syndrome,
This review is from: A Place of Greater Safety (Paperback)My mistake was, after my enthusiastic reading of Wolf Hall, to order both Bring up the Bodies and A Place of Greater Safety. I didn't have much pleasure with Bring up the Bodies, as I started to detect an annoying pattern. Mantel has a story to tell but insist to chop its continuum in, in my view, too many parcels, and I mean a lot!
And with A Place of Greater Safety, well I had to stop at page 383; I could not take it anymore. I rarely let go of a book like this. It is smart in a way, I grant that, but what a painful reading, and believe me I am a serious reader.
Here is what I wrote after throwing A Place of Greater Safety out the window :
I feel like I am in a doll's house, moved along with different sets of figures from room to room (silent but witnessing the conversations) by a crazy little girl intent to reenact the French Revolution through a domestic angle with wives and babies. Through the tiny windows I sometimes glimpse the Bastille, the blood thirsty crowds, the guillotine. News arrive through newspapers, witnesses stopping by for a cup of wine or coffee. I would like to get out, see for myself, but there is always that giant little hand grabbing me and forcing me to sit again in a corner of some room through another meeting. This time, it is with Danton, Camille and Lucile, pregnant and knitting. Or Robespierre and Gabrielle... Or... But I'm missing something, some excitement, I can't escape, I'm bored; still, I have to admire the little girl's imagination in putting words in the mouths of the figures and creating numerous interactions...
So if you are interested by the French Revolution, a good history book would be a better choice.
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed,
This review is from: A Place of Greater Safety (Hardcover)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. I intended it as a gift, but am having second thoughts.
5.0 out of 5 stars Insert Wordsworth quote here.,
This review is from: Place Of Greater Safety (Paperback)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. Those familiar with Mantel's editorials will recognize here her ongoing jabs at feminist representative Nicolas Condorcet, and his jealousy of Robespierre for the female attention he felt should rightfully have been his. She gives her tragedy the sense of ridiculous humor it earns. Even at its busiest, the guillotine traveled around France most ubiquitously as an earring.
Robespierre, somewhat suprisingly, comes across as an almost secondary character. In the end, though, it is him behind the narrative. His influence is why we forgive Saint-Just and Babette Duplay. While she is the product of her family's almost cult-like reverence for "the god upstairs", Saint-Just's hard line violent rhetoric is a logical echo and heir to Desmoulins and Danton's early encouragements of insurrection. Saint-Just appears late, and this follows the arch of the novel perfectly. Everything here, including Mantel's own use of language, artfully turns about in the last hundred pages and bites the hand that has been feeding it. (To stray from Vergniaud's more familiar analogy.)
That goes for the setting as well. The ci-devant court, the external European armies, the anonymous mass known simply as "the people" are all, like Robespierre, apparent afterthoughts that frame the main characters. If their politics are contrary to the monarchy, they still have no other practical precedent. They denounce foreign armies, but without tangible victory there is no legitamacy to the Republic nor to their places in it. Danton openly detests the "good people", but everyone with an education in the novel is intriguing for a place in the new leadership, and in need of a following.
It is hard to put a cap on an emotional response to the characters, because so little of this feels like a sweeping change to the face of the Western World. It reads an awful lot like a small group of people with good intentions whole-heartedly and somewhat frantically making out a place for themselves wherever they can find it. Even Danton's predictions of his immortality, though we know them from the outside to be true, seem overblown in the context of laundry folding and cafe speeches.
I would put it next to "War and Peace" as a literary accomplishment (as well as a weight.) This is an excellent novel.
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A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (Paperback - Nov. 14 2006)
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