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4.1 out of 5 stars
A Place of Greater Safety
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2010
If I had not been reading this book for a book club I would definitely not have read beyond the first 100 pages (of 872). As it was, the first half of the book was just about one of the most painful reading experiences of my life, not least because until that point there was more to read than had been read! There were so many people, places, shifts of tense and POV that I didn't know where I was. The lists of characters she gives for each section at the beginning says it all, but referring back became a further annoyance. To be honest, I stopped caring - but then there was the book club commitment. I kept going....

However, somewhere past the midpoint it started to get really interesting - characters and events started unfolding and falling into place, and became more than the sum total of their parts. Although I still didn't feel it was great writing, the research was detailed and the fiction so well observed it became compelling. The plot and main characters are well documented both historically and in other reviews so I won't go on about them. But I did want to say if anyone out there is having a problem with it - I've been there - and it's well worth seeing it through; Hilary Mantel shows such great insights into the complexities of human nature and events, making fact and fiction work skilfully together, without allowing the fiction to undermine the documented facts.

After I'd finished the book it was a relief to read that Hilary Mantel herself had echoed my sentiments; it was the first book she wrote and was rejected by publishers, and sat on a shelf for a few years. After success with later novels, she was asked to reveal whether she had a first unpublished novel lurking around, she said she nearly lied and said no - the rest is history.

Find yourself a book club! I'm now very excited about finding time to read 'Wolf Hall' (another mega sizebook); she recognises that she has developed her story telling skills considerably - and with the research skills and clarity in her observation of human nature that she has clearly always had - I can't wait. Meanwhile - I've ordered a few of the shorter ones.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2012
Hard to follow and too many characters - a bit like Wolf Hall but in French! I enjoyed Wolf Hall however, so tried this book - but all it does is to encourage me to read a proper history to try to sort out who is who and what actually happened.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2009
Not a book for the faint-hearted: nearly 900 pages long and not always an easy read. The book gives the reader a fascinating insight into the lives and loves of three of the key characters of the French revolution, mixing the political and the domestic very effectively. The climax of the novel is terrifying and utterly compelling. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This novel is very long (870 pages), but highly readable and I got through it in a week and a half. It is immensely interesting and dramatic though also rather depressing, as the original high ideals of the Revolution in 89 and 90 disappear in a torrent of blood, especially after the prison massacre of September 92 and when the reign of terror begins in summer 93. Danton is the strongest and most sympathetic of the main characters and emerges as a colourful, three dimensional persona, occasionally ruthless but essentially very human. Desmoulins is the most irritating of the main characters. Robespierre is the most complex. Until the reign of terror, he is the most liberal character, being opposed to the death penalty and in favour of freedom of speech. But he descends into a cold blooded tunnel vision where his perception of the needs of the Revolution outweighs all human considerations. The appalling Saint Just is the epitome of coldbloodedness throughout. The final trial of Danton makes for morbidly engrossing yet also depressing reading as the last pretences of justice are cynically removed. The fall of Robespierre is not covered.

Being so long, the novel gives a good impression of the different stages in the evolution of the Revolution, from the early more enlightened phases to the climax of the reign of terror. It is sometimes forgotten that France remained a monarchy for three years after the fall of the Bastille. Perhaps the Revolution could have taken a more liberal, democratic course if early events had turned out differently.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2012
I studied history at university, so people always assume you know everything about any given historical period - and the French Revolution was not one of the things I'd ever looked at, so always felt it was a big gap in my knowledge. Not any more - this book will fill in all the gaps and illuminate the things you thought you vaguely knew about.
It looks at the documented events of the French Revolution from the specific personal viewpoints of three of its protagonists - Robespierre, Danton and Camille Desmoulins (the latter perhaps a less familiar name, until you read this book and find out how central he was). The stories become so personal and so urgent that you impatiently turn every page to see what will happen next. As I was reading, I even started to look up Google Images to see what the cast of characters looked like; and after I finished reading, I was eager to see if I could find out more about the French Revolution. It's worth noting that I have yet to find anything that puts any of Hilary Mantel's research into question. Of course she can't know for sure what the characters were thinking; but they weren't behaving in any ways that don't make sense in terms of her book.
Thoroughly recommended, for historians, historical dilettantes, or simply those who love a great story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Having absolutely loved Wolf Hall , Bring up the Bodies and 8 months on Gazzah Street ( all 5 stars from me) , I embarked on A Place of Greater Safety with much anticipation ; I have to say in spite of the style of writing and characterisation which I have been in thrall to in the other books, I had to give up three quarters of the way through . I was constantly referring to the list of characters at the front but then even that failed to help me get through the maze of names and people. With great reluctance I have abandoned it ... I may speed read the last quarter so as to not miss some of the nuggets of description that are pure heaven, but I regret I just couldn't get the joy I had hoped for .
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2002
This is a gripping yet highly literate tale of the Revolution. It is unusual to find an historical novel with such flair, resonance, wit and sheer style. The characterisations of Desmoulins, Danton and Robespierre are vivid, believable and brilliantly done. Robespierre is not someone one can warm to given prior knowledge of his career, yet even he comes across as someone one can, whilst not understand and relate to, at least find some saving grace of humanity in, and that takes some skill! I have read this three times and it reads as well third time out as first. I can really recommend this as something just a little bit different, a real work of class.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2013
Rather laborious, I am still ploughing my way through it. Alkthough it is very well written the story is quite fragmented and again rather too many characters to keep the names in your head - I get to someone and I thnk who is this?? However, I have to finish it - why - I am stubborn.

Would not recommend to a friend.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2012
I hadn't heard great things about this fairly early work but decided to try it before getting Bring Up The Bodies. I love it! It brings alive the minute details leading to the Terror through three characters who almost unwittingly become prime movers and leavens the chill with irony and acute observation. I just might read some of Desmoulins' pamphlets -in translation - I think I love him!
OK - several months on - the book is compulsive - the more you think about it the stronger a grip it all has on you - the depth of the three central characters is profound - and of course they were real! Hilary Mantel always says she just 'makes the reader an offer' when she fictionalizes history - but in this case it is hard for me to feel that she has made any erroneous guesses.
Recommend it to everyone with the proviso that if you're not captivated within the first hundred pages - it's probably just not for you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 January 2012
This is one of the best novels I have ever read. Set during the French Revolution, it focuses on the lives and relationships of three of the key figures leading up to and during the revolution. Danton, Desmoulins, and Robespierre are the focus of this quite magnificent novel, which is based on actual events. Although a long book, at over 800 pages, it is an easy and fascinating read, which is over all too soon.

You grow to sympathise with, and care for, the characters - I felt quite lost when the book was finished. So good is this book that it prompted me to learn more about the events and background to the French Revolution, resulting in my buying and thoroughly enjoying Simon Schama's excellent Citizens: A Chronicle of The French Revolution

If you have read and enjoyed Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall you will certainly enjoy this too. I loved it

Very highly recommended
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