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The Giant, O'Brien

3.42  ·  Rating Details  ·  841 Ratings  ·  132 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
Oct 19, 2012 Erica Verrillo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jamie Collins
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
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
Kathleen Hulser
May 02, 2013 Kathleen Hulser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 30, 2012 Becky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hist-fiction
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.
The idea of creation in the novel is interesting, but I found the story dull for some reason. It's like 100 pages longer than it needs to be.
Apr 22, 2016 Raully rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
One of the best afternoons of my life was spent with Jen in London touring the Royal College of Physicians' museum. Their collection of 'medical oddities' from the Enlightenment included fetuses, preserved faces marked with smallpox and the earliest examples of cancer specimens. In the middle of this collection stands an Irish giant's skeleton, procured by an anatomist against his will by bribing resurrection men. It is striking. And it must have struck Mantel as well, for here she has written a ...more
Alison L.
Jul 06, 2011 Alison L. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tall tale of a tall teller of tall tales
Apr 25, 2013 Lindsey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, stand-alone
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
Nesa Sivagnanam
Nov 03, 2011 Nesa Sivagnanam rated it really liked it
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
Tyler Jones
Nov 18, 2015 Tyler Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mantel is such an excellent writer. I confess I have yet to read most of her books, but this is my favourite of what I have read so far. Somehow Mantel manages to capture both the interior life of characters and the details of the world they move through with an amazing economy of words. Somehow she can divine the perfect descriptors that allow the plot to unfold rapidly while still putting the reader in the scene so completely we can smell and taste it. A wonderfully moving, intelligent and ent ...more
Another case for half stars - this is a 3.5 stars book for me. A fascinating if gruesome account of the 18th century Scottish anatomist, John Hunter. Mantel could well have called her book The Anatomist, Hunter because it is as much about him and his work as it is about O'Brien. The main theme of the book is the battle between art and science, old and new, folk tales and empirical method.

I felt it lacked Mantel's usual strength of narrative. It seemed more like a series of loosely connected vign
Apr 26, 2016 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hobbes said life is brutal, nasty, and short. So it is with The Giant O'Brien. There are moments of beautiful writing and the giant is a compelling character. But poverty (whether economic or emotional) destroys potential and compassion and so this book is ugly and sad.
Ben Peek
Jun 11, 2016 Ben Peek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hilary Mantel's The Giant, O'Brien, is pretty cool. It's the third book of Mantel's I've read - Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are the other two - and it is probably the darkest of the three. After finishing it, however, I feel like I should write Mantel a little fan letter, and tell her how much I appreciate her use of language, her turns of phrases.

The Giant, O'Brien, is the story of a giant, somewhat mythical, who makes his way from Ireland to England with a band of friends. His goal is to
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
Nov 02, 2014 Mariele rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 3-so-so
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
Andy Irwin
Not so much a dark comedy as a dark lagoon of human wretchedness. By the end I despaired utterly for human kind and the novel became more of an emotional ordeal than anything else - perhaps reading it in the bleak midwinter as I did was a mistake. Putting that aside, the novel is lyrical and captures a view of 18th Century London through the eyes of the migrant or, more specifically, through the lens of the "other", in this case a group of Irishmen and a giant seeking fortune in the 'big city'. ...more
Tracy Terry
Feb 21, 2014 Tracy Terry rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Tracy Tonkinson
This is a Hilary Mantel book from an earlier writing period than her Thomas Cromwell trilogy and is set partly in Victorian Ireland and partly in Victorian England. As the story of an Irish Giant taken to England as an attraction it juxtaposes the story of the experiments of a Scottish anatomist and collector of 'freak' skeletons with the mystical character of the giant. The tension is in the desire of the doctor to acquire the right to have the bones of the giant when he dies. It is part romant ...more
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
May 22, 2015 Maria Longley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fa, 2015
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
May 11, 2013 Janice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 21, 2015 Jess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 01, 2010 Fionnuala rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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
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