Books Magazine

Book Review: a Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

By Pamelascott





PAGES: 872


YEAR: 1992

A Place of Greater Safety is a library book. I have wanted to read more of Mantel since I read and loved, Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies.


An ambitious, gripping epic and a tour de force of historical fiction, A Place of Greater Safety tells the story of three young men who find themselves in Paris in 1789, at the dawn of the French Revolution. Two are ambitious young lawyers; the first – George-Jacques Danton – zealous, energetic and debit-ridden, the second – Maximillian Robespierre – small, diligent and terrified of violence. Their friend, Camille Desmoulins, is a genius of rhetoric, charming and handsome yet also erratic and trustworthy, obsessed by one woman but engaged to marry another, her daughter.

In the swells of the revolution, the men taste the addictive delights of power, but in the process unleash the darker side of the Revolution’s ideals and experience the horror that follows.


NOW THAT THE DUST has settled, we can begin to look at our situation. Now that the last red tile has been laid on the roof of the New House, now that the marriage contract is four years old. The town smells of summer; not very pleasant, that is, but the same as last year, the same as the years to follow. The New House smells of resin and wax polish; it has the sulphurous odour of family quarrels brewing.


I thought A Place of Greater Safety was thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve become a bit of a reluctant fan of historical fiction over the past couple of years. The prose is a bit denser than I’m used to but Mantel writes so well this never really bothered me. I just really got into A Place of Greater Safety and didn’t want to leave the world Mantel created. I loved the title as well.

STRUCTURE: Mantel separates A Place of Greater Safety into fairly long chapters (from 30-odd to sixty-odd pages) and each chapter is divided into smaller little scenes or sections that delve into the comings and goings of her numerous characters. A Place of Greater Safety opens before the French Revolution and Mantel takes us right up to the execution of her three main characters; Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins who played a central role in the revolution and are corrupted by greed and power. I liked the way Mantel drip-fed the events of A Place of Greater Safety in little chunks. This is an approach other author’s I enjoy have used successfully in particular Camilla Lackberg. This approach also allows you to take the dense prose in small, digestible chunks. I wouldn’t have found A Place of Greater Safety so approachable if Mantel had written thirty-odd to sixty-odd pages of continuous dense prose. I liked being allowed to pause for breath. This structure made A Place of Greater Safety a faster read than other historical fiction. I was also compelled to read on to get the next thread in each little chain.

PLACE: A Place of Greater Safety is set in Paris. Part of the novel’s appeal is because it’s set in my favorite city in the world. After the bitter disappointment of Another Country by Anjali Joseph recently I wanted to read a big novel set in the city. It would be almost impossible to read a novel as long as A Place of Greater Safety and not get some idea of the setting. Mantel pulls this off. She brings historical Paris to vivid, memorable life.

CHARACTERISATION: There are a lot of characters in A Place of Greater Safety and I mean A LOT. Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins are the three primary characters but they are the biggest fish in a packed sea. There are so many characters Mantel provides a character list at the start. It would be hard to spend so much time with characters without getting to know them inside out. I was impressed how well written all of the characters are and how well I got to know them. Mantel makes each of them unique. I really enjoyed spending time with them. I found Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins fascinating. They weren’t particularly nice people but I actually felt quite sorry for them when they are executed. I enjoyed the female characters the most especially the wives and lovers of Danton and co. I shed a tear when Danton’s first wife, Gabrielle dies in child birth. It would be easy to fall back on using bland stereotypes with such a large cast of characters in the hope this wouldn’t be noticed. I’m glad Mantel put time and effort into each and every one of her players, key or otherwise.

PLOT: In some ways, historical fiction like A Place of Greater Safety is more restricted in terms of plot than other novels. It’s hard to let your imagination run loose when you’re dealing with things that actually happened. However, not everything about even a significant historical event like the French Revolution can be known. It’s the little bits into between the well-documented events that made A Place of Greater Safety such an enjoyable read. It’s the gaps Mantel fills using her imagination that made this such a good read. What really went on in the lives of Danton and other key players of the French Revolution? What did the wives really think? What really drove Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins to corruption and execution? Mantel’s answers to these questions make A Place of Greater Safety such a good read.




The Distant Hours by Kate Morton


Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog