Catherine's Reviews > A Place of Greater Safety

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
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Feb 13, 09

bookshelves: 2009, natania, france
Read in February, 2009

This is a book that's terribly hard to pin down. At the macro level, it's about the French Revolution, from the days before 1789 to the height of the Terror. At the micro level it's about friendship, and the shifting, gendered meaning of the same in a time when everything is being transformed. Somewhere between it's about the meaning of political action; about truth and justice and the possibility (or impossibility) of lodging those within the workings of state.

It's also 746 pages long.

I read the whole thing in five days because I was seized by the urge to know how things turned out. But I can't, that said, say I found the book particularly gripping or compelling. It reads to me almost like a translation from original French, with the same stop-start, formal tone I grew used to in Suite Francaise - but this is not a translation, and so I can only surmise that's the voice the author wanted for this text. I found it distancing; I found the long swatches of dialogue often uninteresting; I was most interested in descriptive passages that summed up a mood through the observation of inanimate objects - letters, papers, a chair, a gun, a guitar. The length of the piece served to drive up the tension of the Terror inch by inch, but it also came close to boring me to tears. That said, I did tear up at the very end, although I'd maintain it's the circumstances that are worthy of that, not the writing. (But did I invest myself in the circumstances because of the writing? There's the rub.)

I don't really recommend this book. If you're a French Revolution boffin, you will find it fascinating, no doubt, but if you are a vaguely interested reader rather than an avid fan of the era . . . I think it's 746 pages of completely missable prose.

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Catherine Schnyder Not as compelling to read as Wolf Hall or Bring up the bodies. On the other hand it does capture the feeling of revolution very well. Everything slowly deteriorates, and people such as Desmoulins and Danton, and later Robespierre, end up taking action they never anticipated, and really in absolute contravention of their early ideals. very frightening indeed.


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