From the double Man Booker prize-winner comes an extraordinary work of historical imagination - this is Hilary Mantel's epic novel of the French Revolution.
Georges-Jacques Danton: zealous, energetic and debt-ridden.
Maximilien Robespierre: small, diligent and terrified of violence. And Camille Desmoulins: a genius of rhetoric, charming and handsome, yet also erratic and untrustworthy.
As these young men, key figures of the French Revolution, taste the addictive delights of power, the darker side of the period's political ideals is unleashed - and all must face the horror that follows.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 880 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 05/03/2007
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9780007250554
Showing 1 - 5 of 8 reviews.
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Review by john257hopper
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.
Review by Suva
The task Mentel set herself when she began this work is in itself terrifying. An account of the lives of three main players in the revolution, from French provincial birth to Parisian death.The resulting novel is, unavoidably, massive and takes in a cast so large that the book requires a list of characters at its start. Its large cast reminded me of Dickens and Tolstoy and like those nineteenth century authors Mantel is one of the many writers who have tackled the French Revolution in literature and in this work she shows her flair for historical writing that also won her the Booker in 2009. Mantel, like Dickens, is at her best when giving full reign to her omniscient narrator, eighteenth century existence is brought vividly to life and the interior thoughts of the characters are dealt with with a beautiful sense of empathy.The dialogue I was less happy with. Most of the people featured in the book were great and intelligent individuals but much of the speech in the novel comes across as too polished and witty by half. These people were masters of oratory and self publication, but all the time? Mantel sometimes gives us the dialogue set out as if it were a play text which is possibly an intentional way for the author to acknowledge this problem herself.In setting out on such a work Mantel must have known she could not please everybody but I for one am glad she has. The book deserves to be better known and hopefully in light of her Booker success it will be.
Review by Widsith
A flawed book, but a very impressive and absorbing one.Mantel traces the story of the Revolution through the experiences of Danton, Robespierre and Desmouslins, along with an extensive cast of the men and women who knew, loved, or hated them. If I'm honest I'd have to say it could have lost a couple of hundred pages – a tighter edit is definitely in there somewhere, although there's something to be said for a lengthy story that you have to live with for a few days.Part of me wanted more detail about ordinary life. A Place of Greater Safety is not about that, and there is rather little in the way of dramatisation of the average Parisian's experience through those dark days at the end of the 18th century. This is very much concerned with the ‘great men’ of the time and how they saw things. It's a very useful window on those men, but at the same time the uninformed reader might be left wondering why this fight was thought so necessary in the first place.Mantel also assumes a fair amount of knowledge about who her characters are. This allows for some beautiful touches of irony in her narration, but, especially towards the beginning, it can make it difficult to distinguish between even such different characters as Robespierre and Danton. Camille Desmoulins is the one who really comes to life here: witty, artistic, sometimes cruel, he is painted convincingly as an aesthete <i>avant la lettre</i>, and a great foil for the splenetic, populist Danton, and the cautious and frighteningly logical Robespierre.The writing is deceptively simple; it sketches a few lines of dialogue here, a couple of descriptive touches there, not going in for rich portraits of Revolutionary Paris but rather outlining the salient landmarks and allowing the reader to fill in the details. By the time the last hundred pages roll around, the cumulative effect is crushingly powerful, and there is an almost unbearable sense of how badly things will end. I had to put the book down every 20 pages; I just couldn't live in that world for too long at a time. The impression, of good-intentions-gone-wrong, is beautifully given, and followed through ruthlessly. Sometimes the rigorous historical accuracy seemed more of an artistic constraint than a help; but ultimately I was left moved and appalled by the way this story played out. It's a perfect accompaniment to any non-fictional reading in the period, and a great description by any standards of humanity's ability to turn on itself.
Review by BrianHostad
An interesting book which gets better as it goes, with a great finalé (if you don't know already what happens to the key protagonists).The book is good despite the style, where different styles of narrative are tried, to no discernable pattern or benefit, except to irritate the reader. In the addition the great number of characters causes problems and the index in the front is essential in helping to keep track of people. Despite this I would encourage anyone to percervere, as it's it's worth it in the end.Of the 3 main characters, Mantel does a great job with Danton and Demoullins, but Robbespierre still remained an enigma to me (and Danton and Demoullins!!) at the end (which I think comes to early in that it doesn't deal with his downfall). In some ways I think Mantel writes best about the female characters, who are more clearly drawn and understandable.All in all, well worth a read and a great insight into the French Revolution.
Review by dsc73277
This is a big novel primarily about the first five years of the French Revolution, from the storming of the Bastille in 1789 to the peak of the Terror in the mid 1790s, but it starts by following the early lives of three of the principal players, Desmoulins, Robespierre and Danton. Once we reach their adult lives there is an almost equal focus on their personal lives as there is on the events they inspire, our caught up in, and are ultimately destroyed by. Indeed, the extent to which their public and private lives are inextricably intertwined, and the impact this has on the women and children in their lives is a major feature of the novel.Robespierre in particular comes across as a far more complex character than the monster of historical stereotype. That is not say that he would have been a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize had it existed in the 1790s; the surprise is that one gets the impression he would like to have been. The man who bears a large share of responsibility for the Terror is depicted by Mantel as someone who actually found violence highly distasteful. I do not know sufficient about French history in this, or indeed any other period, to be able to differentiate the fact from the fiction. Intriguingly, the author's foreword suggests that it is the hardest to believe incidents that are most likely to be factual.Faced with a book that is not far short of 900 pages in paperback, one is bound to ponder whether it needed to be this long, or whether a bit of editing might not have gone amiss? Well it took me more than three weeks to read - slow by my standards - but whilst I tired somewhat of the idea of reading this book, whenever I picked it up it recaptured and held my attention. I was never tempted to skim read. Big events perhaps require big books.
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