55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous
It took me a while to get into this book. I was desperate to get to the revolution and the first couple of hundred pages, although beautifully written concentrated on the main characters early lives. The "Revolution" crept up very subtley until you found yourself suddenly engulfed in the tumult and paranoia of the historical process. It is a truly compelling read, the...
Published on 27 Aug 2009 by onetrack
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Place of Greater Safety
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.
Published on 17 April 2012 by RL
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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous,
It took me a while to get into this book. I was desperate to get to the revolution and the first couple of hundred pages, although beautifully written concentrated on the main characters early lives. The "Revolution" crept up very subtley until you found yourself suddenly engulfed in the tumult and paranoia of the historical process. It is a truly compelling read, the characters are so well drawn you even manage to feel sympathy for Robespierre, whilst for Danton and Camille nothing less than hopeless dread. A host of other characters add to the marvellous complexity but never clutter the story's path. I studied the French Revolution at A Level and found it difficult to pin down or understand, but this book opened my eyes and made it feel contemporary and real. Fabulous.
217 of 222 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling story of real and fascinating people,
By A Customer
This is a huge and dynamic novel about three makers of the French Revolution. The two more famous men, Danton and Robespierre, are linked by their mutual friend Camille Desmoulins, whose role in history was to make the speech that inflamed the mob to storm the Bastille. The novel shows us a very complex and chaotic revolution, accelerated by many types of people and careering out of anyone's control. It is far from a simple case of the peasants rising up to guillotine the aristocrats.
The three main characters are diverse: Danton the bluff orator, the patriot who expects to make a good living out of the revolution; Robespierre the incorruptible, ruled by logic, who believes that the revolution is an essential reform more important than mere individuals, and the magnetic hell-raiser Camille - brilliant, immature, seductive, amoral, driven. Their wives, lovers, friends and enemies swarm through the book creating a riot of events and ideas.
This is wonderful writing with sparkles of genius: Camille's wife imagines the 'semi-demi-half life' of existence without him; a major character dies leaving a book marked with her place, 'And this is it' - it is twinned with her place as a character in this book, the place she got up to.
Hilary Mantel teases fiction out of history, leaving the imaginary indistinguishable from the facts. Both are compelling and thrilling, from the young Camille's subtle humiliation of his host at a dinner party, as a means of seducing his hostess, to Danton's theft of the French crown jewels for diamonds to bribe the enemy to lose a battle.
The story, written in short fragments from various personal points of view, has a form similar to another great historical novel, 'The Man on a Donkey', but this is faster and races through events with a comprehensively modern air. The complexity of the historical events make it an involved narrative with a great many characters, but for the reader who is willing to be swept along, this is a lasting experience. Have two copies - one to dip into again and again, and one to lend to lucky friends.
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing epic,
This is a huge book, both in the number of pages (nearly 900) and its subject matter (The French Revolution). Mantel shows us history through the eyes of three individuals, Danton, Robespierre and the journalist Camilles Desmoulins. Their lives intertwine as the revolution gathers apace and we are privileged to hear from their wives, lovers, co-conspirators and families along the way. All of which gives a great depth and breadth to the story.
Mantel's research must have been immense and her eye for detail and character mean that what might be seen as dry history never suffers that fate. It leaps off the page in a kind of glorious technicolour. The characters, bloodthirsty and morally ambivalent though they are, are also portrayed as fascinatingly human and at times sympathetic.
Despite the length, the complexity of the story and the huge cast of characters Mantel achieves the nigh on impossible task of making this book as easy to read as a holiday blockbuster and just as compelling. A tour de force
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For lovers of Wolf Hall,
I'd never heard of this title but have enjoyed most of Hilary Mantel's books and absolutely loved Wolf Hall. This is an earlier work but shares a lot of the qualities which made Wolf Hall, for me, a stand-out achievement: her ability to manage a huge cast of characters over a turbulent time-span, to bring an intimacy to the main relationships, all in a very easy, witty style which is both contemporary and of its time.
The story of the 3 main protagonists of the French Revolution is told from their childhoods and shows how circumstances drive character and how they were all both the authors of the terrible events of the Revolution and also captured and swept along by what they had unleashed.
The major historical events are nearly always "off-stage" as the novel focuses on the relationships between Robespierre, Danton and Desmoulins, their personal and love lives and their shifting political alliances. It's full of domestic and period details that, although fiction, ring true. The psychology of those who carry out terrible crimes for "the good of the cause" resonates today and you can see parallels with any society that justifies its atrocities in the name of the State.
I loved it, but on ther down side it's hard to keep up with who's who and I kept looking back at the cast of characters provided. In the end I got tired of doing that and just read on: so long as you keep the main characters in your head, you can manage. It is long and if you start reading and then put it aside for a while, it's difficult to remember where you were.
For anyone who's prepared to make a bit of an effort, it's a mesmerising book; when I'd finished I rushed to look up exactly what had happened afterwards and how the 3 main characters had ended up: it's that sort of book.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars See it through - it's worth it!,
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looks daunting but the effort is rewarded,
When I saw the size of this book , I was a bit daunted (and I am a fan of Russian novels...)
But once introduced to the characters of Camille, Robespierre, Danton and Lucile, I was engrossed.
I can't pretend I am especially interested in the politics of the French Revolution, and luckily there is enough really well thought out character-led action here to compensate for some of the (in my view) necessities of the political plot.
I read this as a fascinating story based on re-imagining the characters who orchestrated the French Revolution. The amount of research Mantel has undertaken must have been phenomenal. Inevitably there are constraints in basing this on real events, and the fate of the "real life" characters is of course inevitable, but it is an impressive novel considering the vast scope.
Despite the length of the novel, I was left wanting more about the lead characters. It was such an achievement to create such strong and memorable personalities, that I felt they became too easily swallowed up in the historical process (which, of course, is exactly the point!!) and my interest drifted occasionally when the action shifted away from the individuals to the masses.
However, overall this is a great novel that brings the social context of the French Revolution into focus - and the characters are a triumph.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Making of a Nation: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité - and Terror,
There are a number of excellent and perceptive reviews here with which it is easy to agree. This is the French Revolution brought to vivid life with insight, style and wit.
Given the limited personal material left behind by the three central figures - Maximilien Robespierre, Georges-Jacques Danton and Camille Desmoulins - Hilary Mantel's achievement in adding flesh to bones, personality to silhouette is truly outstanding. But no less so than the skill with which the protagonists and the background - the subsidiary characters, the political intrigues - are made seamlessly part of the whole.
The reader is left with a variety of emotions: empathy with all involved and sympathy for many - especially the women; revulsion at the sheer horror as the blood lust cannot be contained; above all, perhaps, an understanding of how men of undoubted principle unleashed a force they could not control and which ultimately consumed them.
Although published after a number of her other works, this is, in fact, Hilary Mantel's first novel. It is quite simply dazzling
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite comprehensive, mostly accessible, usually entertaining.,
In A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel has attempted a gargantuan task: write a historical novel about the French Revolution which is simultaneously comprehensive, accessible, and entertaining.
Mantel's effort is comprehensive (9), mostly accessible (7.5) and usually entertaining (7.5). Published years after her other novels, she actually wrote this one first and before she perfected her craft.
The author writes quite a COMPLETE NARRATIVE of the early years of the French Revolution (ending in 1794) and interesting portrayals of our 3 main characters, George-Jacques Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and Maximilien de Robespierre. The French Revolution is so challenging to read and write about because there are so many factions competing for different outcomes. Furthermore, factions and individuals are constantly changing their positions, supporting a differing faction in order to create a power vacuum, attempting to manipulate the Revolution to their own ends, and ultimately losing control of what they started. Mantel portrays this complex world well. Some of the most simple positions are full restoration of the monarchy, constitutional monarchy with Louis XVI, constitutional monarchy with the dauphin or Orleans as king, or any number of variant republics (with or without universal suffarage or liberty as we know it). The tension between moderates (mostly middle-class, esp at start) and the radicals (the sanscoulettes masses) is particularly important. I only found Mantel lacking in two areas, namely that I would have enjoyed a few more "facts" (e.g. the numbers executed across France) and that the main character's changing positions could have been delineated better. The characters of each man are distinct and interesting, but their politics can be ambiguous at times (though sometimes this is because the character himself is struggling to decide). Danton's ideal government model is never terribly clear, even though he motivates the people on the street. Robespierre's transformation from seemingly gentle intellectual to heartless dictator is famous, but unconvincing in Mantel's novel. The man is presented as incredibly logical and rational, so how does he conclude that Terror is necessary? One of Mantel's main aims is to help the reader see the politics and Reason behind the chaos and violence and she is not 100% successful in this sense, although she does successfully explore the way in which luck, human weakness, corruption, personal relationships, and grudges affect politics.
THE NOVEL'S ACCESSIBILITY would be a 10 except for 2 factors. First, there are a lot of characters of which to keep track - not the author's fault and not a problem for readers with good memories. Second, the author's prose is guilty of a common and incredibly irritating habit of not making it clear who is speaking. Even when three people are having a conversation, there are no adequate clues to speakers identities. Entire prose sections begin without revealing the narrator. The shifting Point of View is sometimes confusing.
As for ENTERTAINING. . . Unsurprisingly, Mantel's balance of details vs pace is a bit off; there are a lot of details included which are reptetitive or don't add anything to the picture and therefore diminish the reader's enjoyment, particurlary in the middle of the book between the fall of the Bastille and the Terror. At 872 pages, I sometimes got bored with the same conversations and conflicts.
All in all, the French Revolution is an extraordinarily complex series of events which Mantel successfully navigates. The importance of the French Revolution can not be understated and will provide you with an understanding of the spread of republicanism in Europe and also an insight into the minds of British politicians in the 19th that insisted "if you give them an inch, they will take a mile."
If you prefer a fast-paced plot-driven or character-driven story in which setting takes a backseat, look elsewhere. If you are interested in the history itself and are looking for a dramatized telling of these events, you will enjoy this novel.
75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force,
Another gripping novel from Hilary Mantell, this book spans the final few decades of the 18th Century in France, describing the fall of the Ancien Regime and the rising tides of revolution through the eyes of three men at the centre of these tumultuous events - Danton, Desmoulins and the infamous Robespierre. Mantell has the great knack of being able to give even the most monstrous of characters a human dimension, and there are few more monstrous than Robespierre, the so-called incorruptible who was finally corrupted by the very pursuit of the vertu that was at the core of his political - and philosophical - beliefs. Mantell creates convincing portrayals of an array of characters, describing scenes of great horror with a sense of detachment that somehow magnifies the revulsion we feel. She skillfully handles an extremely complex period of history, revealing the human heart at the centre these remote events. Danton and Desmoulins are at once sympathetic and flawed, and the woman that loved them are given real voices. A wonderful book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It was the best of times.....,
I bought this after having read Wolf Hall, and was not disappointed. It is a huge book, but don't let that put you off. The pace of the book is breathtaking. It covers the first decade or so of the revolution in France, and the three main characters are the de facto leaders of the revolution, Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins. Ms Mantel has here managed to remain true to the history while writing a work of fiction that fleshes out fully the various characters of these three as well as a host of other characters. It won't be a spoiler to say that they all lose their heads in the end, but that she manages to paint so vivid a picture of all the different ways they do so at various stages, politically, emotionally and ultimately physically is awe inspiring. The book is written from various viewpoints, not just the three main characters but also those of their wives and friends. The effect is cumulative and powerful, really giving one an idea of the terror and why it was so. Dickens was right , it was the best of times, the worst of times. It is a book to get lost in, just don't lose your head.
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A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel