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The Giant, O'Brien

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  1,109 Ratings  ·  162 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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Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2017
An intriguing mixture of fact and fantasy. Unlike the Cromwell novels and A Place of Greater Safety, the need for invention is clear here.

Although the Irish giant Charles Byrne and the surgeon John Hunter are real historical figures, and Byrne's bones do form part of the specimen connection Hunter left to the Royal College of Surgeons, Mantel acknowledges that her choice to make Byrne an intelligent and well-read raconteur is implausible. In Mantel's version the name Byrne was chosen by O'Brien
Based on the true story of an Irish Giant who travelled to London in the 18th century to exhibit 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 Doctor and in fact the Giant's bones are still held as part of the Hunterian museum in London, in a curious twist these have allowed researchers to identify some of the Giants kin who live in Northern Ireland and who are still prone to giantism .

One of the themes of the novel is pl
Erica Verrillo
Oct 19, 2012 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
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 18, 2012 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.
Brian Kohl
Started with great promise as the fantastical poet-giant led his band of foolish young Irishmen to the post-golden-age streets of London, but the novel peaked early and dribbled to a miserable close (despite the introduction of the historical, grave-robbing surgeon John Hunter).
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 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
Alison L.Y.
Jun 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tall tale of a tall teller of tall tales
Nesa Sivagnanam
Nov 03, 2011 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
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 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
Nov 07, 2012 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.
Apr 14, 2016 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.
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: object-fictions
What lushness of language, breadth of view, and sharpness of wit! Kudos, Hilary Mantel.
Oct 01, 2010 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.
Oct 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Unique, for sure. Very well written but totally bizarre, and very bleak.
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.
Lillian White
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read a handful of books by Mantel now, and this is probably the one I've enjoyed least - although I think that may partly be due to reading it while sleep-deprived on a plane, which aren't really the ideal circumstances for appreciating dense, lyrical prose about sickness, death and the body in eighteenth-century London. However, if that description appeals to you at all, it will be worth a read. I very much liked the poignant central character of the Giant, but other parts of the story w ...more
The Giant O'Brien was interesting novel but not quite as good as I expected. The book just didn't pull me in; I suspect it was because the giant was the only really likeable character, from my perspective. Perhaps the best characteristic of the book was how the entire story represented a collision between the old folkways and religious outlook on life, and the new scientific, atheistic worldview. The book also was very good at illustrating the horrible impact of poverty in 18th century London.
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
May 16, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Aug 02, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Didnt like it so returned it to Audible after only listening for an hour
Nadine Paque-Wolkow
3.5 Sterne
ein harter Brocken
Shire of Dardanup LIbraries
Unfortunately the characters have not captured my attention and I keep putting the book down and reading others. I liked the giant's character but not enough to keep me reading.
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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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