Sunday, 3 February 2013

Book #16 A Place Of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

A Place Of Greater Safety

Length Of Time In Possession : 9 months

A Place Of Greater Safety is the third Hilary Mantel book I have read following the first two books of her yet to be completed Tudor trilogy Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, like those books it is also a historical epic.

The story focuses on Camille Desmoulins, Georges-Jacques Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, three men who went on to become famous and infamous for the roles as the architects of the French Revolution.

The story begins in their childhoods with Camille and Robespierre meeting at school and Camille befriending Danton in his early years in chambers. The intellect and idealism of these three led to a meeting of minds which destroyed the French establishment and led to the beginnings of the France we know today.

If you know your history of the French Revolution at all, you'll know what became of these three young men you are introduced to as they grew up, but this hardly matters in terms of reading a story whose outcome is already set in stone. You come to look at them as more than just history, a set of ideals, by being introduced to their childhoods and their wives and their friendships you come to see them as rounded human beings.

These are tragic men the architects not just of France but ultimately of their own fates.

The narrative is detailed, phenomenally researched, and the prose and dialogue are often very witty. At one point Desmoulins father thinks of him as "the kind of son you pay to stay away". Danton and Desmoulins are philanderers not above trying it on with each others wives, while Robespierre is the Incorruptible buttoned down, asexual, cold, initially belittled as the Candle Of Arras to another mans Torch, the Incorruptible grows more sinister the more he grows in political stature.

The book took me longer to read than my usual average. At times I felt bogged down and confused by the ever changing political world of these men (Girondin, Jacobin, Brissotist) where friends become foes in a heartbeat. I think this is deliberate in many ways as it thereby reflects the way things changed from moment to moment for the protagonists themselves, one minute the lauded speaker to the gathered Convention, the next fleeing for their lives to England or the provincial towns from whence they came.

This kind of wearying tension, this heightened state of alert can be felt in the novel, and though at times not much is said of the blood of the Guillotine running through Parisian streets, the psychological impact of the blood on their hands is palpable.

What was frustrating for me was that as I reached the end I realised that the novel was only going to cover the conclusion of two of these characters fates, and the third arrived as a postscript following the books close and I felt somehow cheated and I wanted the breakdown of the events that followed the point at which the novel closed.

It seems somehow odd to begin a novel with 3 young boys and yet not give a detailed conclusion to all three threads at the end.

Yet I really did like this novel, and would recommend it, particularly if you are interested in this time period.

Destination : ebook storage


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