A deeply disturbing book,
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This review is from: A Place of Greater Safety (Paperback)
I read 'A Place of Greater Safety' shortly after The Giant, O'Brien, having turned to that book after having read ('being bowled over by' is perhaps more appropriate) Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. At first sight, this novel is similar to all those, as it is also based on real events, and peopled by historical characters, and - apart from 'The Giant, O'Brien' - epic in scale. But now, having finished it just a couple of hours ago, I find 'A Place of Greater Safety' as impressive but very different as well.
In both 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring Up the Bodies' I found that I could relate quite easily to Thomas Cromwell. I may not be like him (I'm sure I'm not), but I found it easy to understand the man and even sympathize with him. In that respect, 'A Place of Greater Safety' was to me an entirely different kettle of fish. The three main characters, Maximilien de Robespierre, Georges Danton, and Camille Desmoulins are each of them portrayed in such detail that you get to know them intimately so to speak, but for neither of them did I feel any sympathy. They are entirely different from each other, but it was a harrowing and disturbing experience to read to what lengths each of them was willing to go for the sake of 'Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité'. And in many ways, one could argue that they were amongst the more moderate politicians of the French Revolution (Saint-Just in particular I found a horrific character). I felt constantly involved in the novel, could hardly put it down and when I did couldn't get it out of my head, but when it comes to 'feeling', well, I felt mostly pity for the countless characters that sooner or later end up on the guillotine.
Whether you like a character or not is subjective of course, and regardless of it all this is of course still a truly magnificent and epic work of fiction. You feel as if you were there, and the introduction of excerpts from pamphlets of the period and journals of some of the protagonists adds to this sense of veracity. I cannot recommend this book enough, the major difficulty afterwards is deciding what to read next: another Hilary Mantel-novel? Of Citizens: A Chronicle of The French Revolution by Simon Schama?