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The Giant, O'Brien

3.44  ·  Rating Details ·  949 Ratings  ·  149 Reviews
New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year

London, 1782: center of science and commerce, home to the newly rich and the desperately poor. In the midst of it all is the Giant, O'Brien, a freak of nature, a man of song and story who trusts in myths, fairies, miracles, and little people. He has come from Ireland to exhibit his si
Paperback, 208 pages
Published June 12th 2007 by Picador (first published 1998)
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Erica Verrillo
Oct 19, 2012 Erica Verrillo rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 19, 2016 dianne rated it it was ok
I was so excited to read this - what? John Hunter? And an untreated, brilliant, acromegalic? I have visited the Hunterian Museum in London innumerable times. There is nowhere else like it to see the natural history of (thank Kali) now treatable diseases. Syphilis, tuberculosis, astounding goiter, plague, neurofibromatosis, and, yes, acromegaly - Giant O’Brien’s sad skeleton hangs, slump shouldered among the whale penis’ and basketball-sized tumors. Hunter’s obsession, formalin, and great care ha ...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
Anastasia Hobbet
Jan 09, 2012 Anastasia Hobbet rated it it was amazing
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
Kathleen Hulser
May 02, 2013 Kathleen Hulser rated it really liked it
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
Jun 18, 2012 Becky rated it liked it
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.
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.
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.
Alison L.
Jun 27, 2011 Alison L. rated it really liked it
A tall tale of a tall teller of tall tales
Nesa Sivagnanam
Nov 03, 2011 Nesa Sivagnanam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Oct 28, 2015 Russell rated it liked it
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
Tyler Jones
Nov 18, 2015 Tyler Jones rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 07, 2012 Janice rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 14, 2016 Christine rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 18, 2015 Ruta rated it it was amazing
Shelves: object-fictions
What lushness of language, breadth of view, and sharpness of wit! Kudos, Hilary Mantel.
Oct 01, 2010 Fionnuala rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 22, 2012 Sarah rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Unique, for sure. Very well written but totally bizarre, and very bleak.
Lillian White
Feb 22, 2017 Lillian White rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cathal Kenneally
Short story but still a great read. Part fiction, part history. A story about a man who seeks his fortune in London and how a surgeon tries to befriend him but only to use him for his own personal gain
Jan 13, 2017 Adobe rated it it was amazing
In 1782 London, an Irish giant and a Scot anatomist separately try to understand life: the former through stories, the latter through dissections. The Giant dreams of rebuilding a fabled Ireland; the doctor dreams of cutting apart the Giant.

The Giant, O'Brien offers the tantalizing hint of an idea, hovering just out of reach and never quite steady, that the dual pursuits of O'Brien and John Hunter parallel one another in their particulars: a search for immortality, an end justifying its grisly
Sep 27, 2016 Karen rated it it was amazing
This woman can do no wrong in my eyes, but I'll try to remain objective. The story of O'Brien and his friends is a sad and simple one, but profoundly told, as always with Mantel. She touches on the importance of stories in rural and famine-ravaged Ireland, where the art of poetry and storytelling are almost medicinal, having the power to transport suffering and hungry minds to another time and place. When O'Brien, a semi-mythical creature himself (the book is based on a real person and true even ...more
Apr 22, 2013 Vicki rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 27, 2014 Carmen rated it it was ok

The year is 1782; the place, London: the center of science and commerce, home to the newly rich and magnet to the desperately poor. Among the latter is the Giant, O'Brien, a freak of nature, a man of song and story who trusts in the old myths, in Irish kings and fairies. He has come to exhibit his size for money. He has, he soon finds, come to die. His opposite is a man of science, a society surgeon, the famed anatomist John Hunter, employer to a legion of grave robbers. He lusts after
Stephanie Jane
Feb 01, 2015 Stephanie Jane rated it really liked it
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
Dec 19, 2016 Castille rated it it was ok
I'm giving this book two stars not because it's less-than-average; it's above average writing, but it was just an okay story. I haven't read any of Mantel's other works, but I know her reputation and I generally love historical fiction, so I was expecting more out of this.

The year is 1782; the place, London: the center of science and commerce, home to the newly rich and magnet to the desperately poor. Among the latter is the Giant, O'Brien, a freak of nature, a man of song and story who trusts in the old myths, in Irish kings and fairies. He has come to exhibit his size for money. He has, he soon finds, come to die. His opposite is a man of science, a society surgeon, the famed anatomist John Hunter, employer to a legion of grave robbers. He lusts after t
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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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