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The Giant, O'Brien

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  720 ratings  ·  114 reviews
Like Andrew Miller (Ingenious Pain, Casanova in Love) and Penelope Fitzgerald (The Blue Flower), Hilary Mantel turns to the 18th century in order to make a universal point. Her eighth novel, The Giant, O'Brien, takes place during that bifurcation of mind and spirit known as the Age of Reason. The year is 1782 and Charles O'Brien has fled Ireland, bringing both his massive ...more
Kindle Edition, 206 pages
Published (first published 1998)
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Erica Verrillo
I have read several other books by Mantel, and enjoyed them all. But this one stands out, not just as an enjoyable read, but as an excellent piece of literature. Mantel is a reliably good author - engaging, smooth, and honest. But sometimes, an author manages to rise above "good," and create something truly unique, something that breaks the rules, takes risks and succeeds in charting new territory. This is what Mantel has done in The Giant O'Brien.

The Giant O'Brien is based on the true story of
Anastasia Hobbet
An astonishing display of Hilary Mantel's brilliantly fertile imagination. She takes the bones of a true story (that's not a metaphor) and fleshes it out to ponder the collision of poetry and art with science and logic. Set in late 18th century London, it traces the fascination of a famous anatomist, John Hunter, with an equally famous but desperately poor story-telling Irish man who comes to town to display himself as a 'giant' rather than starve in the wilds of his home land. The anatomist rec ...more
Matt Brady
The semi-fictionalised account of the of the eponymous Charles O’Brien, a young man from Kerry in Ireland who travels with his friends to London in order to exhibit his own prodiguous body to the gawping masses. O’Brien, who’s skeleton is still on display in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, was close to 8’ tall and caused a temporary sensation when he arrived in the British capital in 1782. One of the people attracted to this one-man spectacle was John Hunter, a famed surge ...more
Nesa Sivagnanam
Loosely based on true events in the eighteenth century, this novel chronicles the intersection of two lives. Charles O'Brien, an exceptionally large man, travels along with friends from Ireland to England to exhibit himself. He is a giant in more ways than one. In addition to his immense size, he is also intelligent, compassionate, articulate, and a gifted storyteller.

"His appetite was great, as befitted him; he could eat a granary, he could drink a barrel. But now that all Ireland is coming dow
I must admit I was expecting a little more from this book. It didn't seem to gel together as well as it could have done, and aspects that I thought were interesting or promising often led nowhere at all, or were simply glossed over. Having said that, there are many elements that do work in this short novel, it is well worth reading; just doesn't seem to work as well as other things I have read by Mantel, Wolf Hall for example.
Alison L.
A tall tale of a tall teller of tall tales
I don't know what to say about this book. When I first read what it was about on Barnes and Nobles website it sounded pretty good. But I could not get into it. I found myself really pushing my self to finish the book. I enjoyed a few parts here and there but I did not enjoy the overall feel of the book.

I gave it three stars for a few reasons - the descriptions and the Giant - O'Brien, he was a interesting character. This two reasons actually tie into each other because the reason I liked the gi
I like Mantel’s writing style, but there’s an awful lot of style here with relatively little substance. This novel is based on true events, and the subject matter is certainly fascinating, but overall I was unsatisfied by the way she tells this story.

Charles Byrne was an 8-ft-tall Irishman who came to London in 1782 to exhibit himself as an oddity. John Hunter was a famous surgeon and naturalist who feverishly collected biological specimens, and who desired to obtain Byrne’s skeleton - rather in
Kathleen Hulser
Intricate dance between the Irish giant selling his stature and the obsessive dissector greedy for the corpse, all set in the grimy underworld of 18th century grave-robbers, freak shows and London back alleys. The friction between the dreamy and poetic spirit of the Celt, and the rationalist mania of the British surgeon supplies sparks of the sort that have started cultural brush fires since the age of Enlightenment. Mantel is consistently acerbic in her portraits of the warring types, and is we ...more
Kate Sylvan
Mantel is still a goddess, but I didn't enjoy this book. It's well written (duhhhh it's HM) but SO UNRE-FUCKING-MITTINGLY BLEAK. Reading this book is like watching someone you love being slowly disemboweled with a rusty spoon: it's unbelievably painful and leaves you doubting the point of human relationships.

I gave The Giant, O'Brien 2 stars rather than negative 723, as was my first intinct, because Mantel could spit on the floor and it would be a better book than most out there.

* yeah, you're w
What lushness of language, breadth of view, and sharpness of wit! Kudos, Hilary Mantel.
I failed completely to be moved by this book.
I have heard so much praise about Hilary Mantel (often named as the best (currently-active) author of English-speaking literature - not much of a praise really, as far as I am concerned, but this is a different matter). After reading the blurb of some of her books, I decided to get a first taste of her writing by reading one of her smaller books first (rather than one of her more recent volumes), and found this on the bookcase.
It is the parallel stor
A grisly tale for a grisly time. It's about lots of the things I like: stories and science, body and mind, invention as creation and human politics, both the big and the small. It's taut with a sense of historical accuracy and interspersed with snippets of speedy Irish banter.

The tale itself is a bit of a cracker - the best and the worst of the celts comes out in it. The hardness and curious magic of folk tales is the same as that of creepy old science, which pokes around the edges of death and
This is my second book by Hilary Mantel, and even though so much praise has been heaped upon her, she still hasn't convinced me yet. This was a thin book with an interesting topic: art pitted against science. It is cleverly written, and full of exquisite metaphors. However, it is so very bleak. I got the feeling that Mantel doesn't really like her characters, not just royalty (which is obvious); she seems to dislike every single one of the characters she writes about. Her prose is always cold, c ...more
Tracy Terry
Historical fiction? Great, one of my favourite genres. Written by a well received author? Tick, this looks promising. Based on an actual person? Charles O'Brien the giant of the title actually existed as did the surgeon John Hunter. All positive signs. This was going to be a good read, right?

You'd have thought so, wouldn't you? Alas, I'm afraid The Giant, O'Brien just didn't do anything for me but then I'm beginning to think that Hilary Mantel's style of writing just isn't a style I enjoy.

Based on the true story of an Irish Giant who travelled to London in the 18th century to exhibt himself, as a kind of one man freak show. He is eventually persuaded to sell the rights to his body after his death to a Doctoer and in fact the Giant's bones are still held as part of a London medical collection.

Interesting picture of 18th century London.
Maria Longley
Is this supposed to be horror? Hilary Mantel does float around that area with this (and some of her other books I've read), but there is more to it including storytelling within the story, surreal streaks, hedgerow wisdom versus scientific enquiry, poetry, and giants. Giant O'Brien and his rag-tag band run away from famine and poverty and violence in Ireland to, well, famine, poverty and violence in London. This is the era of freakshows and the credulous as well as John Hunter who is after as ma ...more
This is the second book I've read by Hillary Mantel. Her writing is evocative and lyrical. This book is set in the 1700s in London and Mantel brings the time period and the characters to life vividly. Definitely worth reading, just to savor her writing style, if nothing else.
I am probably the only person who has not yet read Wolf Hall, having been put off by its general brickness and also varying reviews of Mantel's writing style. I didn't want to find myself despondently trudging through hundreds of unengaging pages, yet I hate not finishing a book! So when I saw this shorter work on Audible, I thought it would be an ideal introduction. The Giant O'Brien is a historical imagining of the arrival in London of a particularly tall Irish man, together with his hangers-o ...more
I really enjoyed this book. The portrayals of the two main characters: Charles O'Brien, the eight foot storyteller, and John Hunter, the creepy anatomist, were both incredibly vivid and poignant.

Mantel tells stories in a completely different way from most writers. She ignores typically necessary description or characterization and instead makes her characters vast, complex landscapes. Reading her books can be frustrating, but also illuminating.

Another excellent thing about this book is the way t
Roger Norman
The first ten or twenty pages were so magnificent - so evocative, resonant, original, intriguing - that I thought, here's something as good as Cormac, or better. For another 50 pages, I kept hoping. The Giant himself is a wonderful creation, wise, sensitive and very sympathetic. But by the end of the book, I could hardly read the pages. The author said something interesting about the book in the blurb stuff at the end. Normally I don't care for this stuff (I think it belongs elsewhere), but this ...more
Mantel is a deeply comic writer at her most tragic. Or should that be deeply tragic at her most comic? Either way, this is a gorgeous, slippery book about fame and being its object.
Meh. I could see potential for a much better book, but despite its slim size, I found myself slogging through to get it done.
Unique, for sure. Very well written but totally bizarre, and very bleak.
Lissa Notreallywolf
Read this book for it's poetics, not it's plot. It's full of plots-the giant and his company never stop spinning yarns against the squalid backdrop of London. They have gone their to exhibit their tall friend, and to escape the poverty of Ireland. Instead of rank starvation they are briefly flush, but quickly get dragged into the violence of each neighborhood they traverse. One of their acquaintences is an anatomist who collects animals and freaks along side other corpses. Glad I read the back j ...more
It was an excellent book--and though short--it was difficult to get through. Hilary Mantel is notable for not describing things. One of the best scenes is the one the novel begins on--five or six men huddled in the dark in a barn while its raining with some cows. Slowly do adjectives come and context, sort of like one's eyes adjusting to the light, until one sort of knows everyone surrounding you. I also was impressed by her words. I'm not sure how much research she did to find words current in ...more
This historical novel is set in late 18th century Ireland and London. Charles O'Brien, a fictional character based on Charles Byrne, "The Irish Giant", is an unschooled but literate and sensitive young man, who entertains his companions and admirers with tales of Irish lore. The countryside is beset by extreme poverty, and O'Brien is distressed when he discovers that Mulroney's, a favorite pub that hosted storytellers and poets, has fallen into ruin. O'Brien, accompanied by an unscrupulous manag ...more
This book was not my cup of tea. I wanted to like it a lot. I tried, I really did. I think that I must have missed something somewhere that disallowed me to make certain connections. But after finishing it and laughing during parts due to either Hunter's "experiments" or Giant's story telling, I decided that it was worth 3 stars from me.

The book's setting is Ireland and England in the late 18th century. Charles O'Brien is a "giant" of a man at 7'7" tall. His country (Ireland) is going to hell qu
Irene Schneider
"Go out and fetch me some paupers. I want to make them vomit." That's from Chapter Eight. I am not a prude; I used to work for the Black Cat imprint. But this book, wallowing as it does in morbidity, is ultimately wearisome. Mantel is a gifted writer-- brilliantly gifted. She has a swift style, clever phrases, and beautifully controlled structure. But her relentless focus on the ripest, most diseased and repulsive aspects of poverty is boring the way anything repetitive gets boring. Delete a cer ...more
Grace Harwood
This is very much a Hilary Mantel book, written in her distinctive style, and vividly recalling a bygone age of poverty-stricken Ireland and London below the breadline. The atmosphere is vividly rendered, as are the characters. I found the method of narration a little confusing, but I think it always takes a while to get into reading a book with a distinctive narrative voice, as the reader needs to acclimatise, so to speak.

There were some good parallels between both main characters; Hunter's jou
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Hilary Mantel is the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She is also the author of A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An ...more
More about Hilary Mantel...
Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2) A Place of Greater Safety Beyond Black The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

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