Kim's Reviews > A Place of Greater Safety

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
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Nov 12, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: buddy-reads-with-jemidar, kindle, historical-fiction, all-time-favourites, french-revolution
Read from July 01 to 18, 2012

As Hilary Mantel states in the author’s note, "[t]his is a novel about the French Revolution and almost all of the characters in it are real people". Mantel goes on to write that the novel “is closely tied to historical facts – as far as those facts are agreed – which isn’t really very far”. The narrative focuses on three men who are central to the Revolution: the hard-headed pragmatist, Georges-Jacques Danton; the passionate rabble-rouser, Camille Desmoulins and the fanatic ideologue, Maximilien Robespierre. It follows their lives from their school days to the height of the Reign of Terror.

I came to this extremely long novel not because I had any particular interest in the French Revolution, but because I fell in love with Mantel’s writing in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and wanted to read more of her work. I was initially disconcerted by the extraordinarily long character list at the front of the novel: some thirteen (Kindle-sized) pages. The one disadvantage of reading a very long book on an e-reader is the inability to easily flick back through the pages, which meant that after that first eye-glazing encounter with the character list, I didn’t consult it again. However, I didn’t need to, as I had no difficulty following the plot and (more or less) keeping track of who's who.

Mantel’s style is idiosyncratic. She moves from past to present tense and from third person to first person narration, with the occasional instance of addressing the reader directly. Some of the narrative consists of dialogue in the form of a script. All of this shouldn’t work, but it does for me. I simply love the way Mantel writes. She has a wonderful way with words. Take her description of the Duke of Orléan’s former mistress, for example:
Felicité is a woman of sweet and iron willfulness, and she writes books. There are few acres in the field of human knowledge that she has not ploughed with her harrowing pedantry.

Or the way she describes Camille Desmoulin’s feeling about writing:
When it was time to write, and he took his pen in his hand, he never thought of consequences, he thought of style. I wonder why I ever bothered with sex, he thought; there’s nothing in this breathing world so gratifying as an artfully placed semicolon.

Although I read this book mostly because I want to read everything Mantel writes, it has also made me very much interested in the French Revolution. Thanks to Mantel, I feel like I understand what happened over those tumultuous years. More than that, I feel like I was there, inside the heads of the players. And even though I knew how it was all going to end, the final few pages still devastated me.

I keep telling myself that I prefer history and biography to novels about real historical figures. But Hilary Mantel converts me to historical fiction. I've spent two weeks totally engaged with the meticulously researched world she has created and I completely believe her version of the French Revolution. If I could give this novel more than five stars, I would. This was another buddy read with my friend Jemidar, who shares my fan girl enthusiasm for Hilary Mantel's writing.
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Quotes Kim Liked

Hilary Mantel
“When it was time to write, and he took his pen in his hand, he never thought of consequences; he thought of style. I wonder why I ever bothered with sex, he thought; there's nothing in this breathing world so gratifying as an artfully placed semicolon.”
Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety


Reading Progress

07/03/2012
12.0% "Part IV"
07/06/2012
23.0% "Today is Hilary Mantel's 60th birthday." 1 comment
07/08/2012
38.0% "Part III Chapter IV"
07/11/2012
57.0% 3 comments
07/13/2012
71.0% "Part V Chapter VII" 7 comments
show 2 hidden updates…

Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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Chrissie Are you enjoying this? She wrote it before all the media praise.


message 2: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim I'm enjoying it very much, Chrissie. I love Mantel's style. According to the Wikipedia article about Mantel, this was the first novel she started, back in the 1970s, although it was the fifth one published. I've come to know her work through Wolf Hall and at this stage I'd probably read her shopping list!


Chrissie I still have not read Wolf Hall. The French Revolution, the topic, is what drew me to this book... years ago. Then came Wolf Hall. I guess I should read WH. Do you think one can tackle that subject as an audiobook? I believe it is available. I am NOT an expert on the subject.


message 4: by Anna (new)

Anna Excellent review as ever, Kim :-)


Jemidar I've just finished and am still numb. The ending is just so powerful; even without the emotive scaffold speech lesser writers of the Revolution felt were necessary!


message 6: by Hayes (new)

Hayes I can see that this one is not for me, but I loved your review.


message 7: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Thank you, Anna, Hayes and Simran.


message 8: by Lewis (new)

Lewis Weinstein If I really disliked Wolf Hall, is there any chance I would like A Place of greater Safety?


message 9: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Lewis wrote: "If I really disliked Wolf Hall, is there any chance I would like A Place of greater Safety?"

The style is different, Lewis, in that Mantel doesn't use "he" without it being clear who's speaking, but you may well not like the mixture of tenses and POVs. Mantel has an idiosyncratic style and I suspect it's one that readers either love or hate. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that as you hated Wolf Hall, I doubt this book would appeal. On the other hand, it's a very detailed account of significant events in the French Revolution, so if you want detail and can let idiosyncrasies of style wash over you, you might not mind it.


message 10: by Lewis (new)

Lewis Weinstein Thanks for your input. I'll probably pass on the book.


message 11: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne Now that I'm finishing my Hardy blitz, I'll try something modern, but I will try Mantel, in a few weeks. The review makes the French Revolution sound... Important. My 10 th grade history class glossed over it. Le Miz made it sound romantic. Versailles made it look opulent. Maybe this novel will provide the details and insights which I never "picked up."


message 12: by John (new) - added it

John Gaynard Great review.


Chrissie I am glad you liked it.


Judith I first read Wolf Hall and absolutely fell in love the the writing of Ms. Mantel. With A Place of Greater Safety, she breathes life into these historical characters. She has such a gift--I am absolutely a fan of Hilary Mantel!


Joyce Kim, having just finished Bring Up the Bodies and can completely relate to your review. So it seems like this may be another excellent choice. Thank you for such your review.


message 16: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim It's such a wonderful book, Joyce. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Joyce You read this is 2 weeks! Wish I could do that. Kim I am very much enjoying it. I even think I'm keeping things somewhat straight in my mind.


message 18: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Joyce wrote: "You read this is 2 weeks! Wish I could do that. Kim I am very much enjoying it. I even think I'm keeping things somewhat straight in my mind."

I'm so glad you're enjoying it, Joyce. It's such a fantastic novel.


Judith I, too, love Hilary Mantel and I love love loved this book; as I loved the Cromwell books.


message 20: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Same here, Judith. It's a book I know I'll read again.


Joyce Kim, I wasn't sure I was going to get to the point of loving it. But I did for sure. Loved it. Thank you.


message 22: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim Joyce wrote: "Kim, I wasn't sure I was going to get to the point of loving it. But I did for sure. Loved it. Thank you."

Somehow I missed this comment. I'm so glad you ended up loving the book, Joyce.


message 23: by Kay (new)

Kay Washko I agree with your review in part. While there is no denying the meticulous research, the novel itself struck me as one long experiment with style. (Which is wonderful in a workshop setting, but not necessarily wonderful for a reader.) There is a reason certain rules work and others can be manipulated or discarded, and that reason is generally considered to be clarity. Some of her choices did not work for me and prevented me from a deeper connection with the characters and the story. If deliberate confusion and muddying of waters was part of the point, then Bravo. Otherwise, these little known architects of the Revolution may have benefited from a different mode of storytelling.


message 24: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed Casebeer A ***** review, Kim.


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