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A Place of Greater Safety

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Once again, Mantel takes a lot for granted in her readers and assumes we understand the context and origins of the politics of the Revolution - she name-checks Tacitus and Rousseau but doesn't explore their influence in any great detail. It seemed to Desmoulins that with the birth of this first child he had become like a man floundering around in a sucking swamp, with no glimmering of rescue. Danton did not want England to get involved because he knew that the strength of British sea power would keep the war going on for a long time. If you had told me earlier," her lover said, "we would have only had the row about a brewer's daughter marrying into the de Robespierre family.

In the early days of the Revolution, Danton and Robespierre believe in a constitutional monarchy, but Desmoulins is one of the few people who thinks France should be a republic. As with the Cromwell novels, and with the best of any historical fiction, we are left to reflect on a world that is maybe not that much different from our own. Her use of the p-word is a measure of the kind of disdain she feels emanating from the academic historians, who seem to think there are only two kinds of history, the 'sceptical and rational' or the 'imaginative and erratic'. I was initially disconcerted by the extraordinarily long character list at the front of the novel: some thirteen (Kindle-sized) pages. A lovely passage at the end set my heart racing, in much the same way as my favorite metaphor in Wolf Hall and the final page of Bring Up the Bodies did.Anne-Madeleine was repeating the De profundis in a monotone: "From the morning watch even until night: let Israel hope in the Lord.

Another playful reference by Ms Mantel to her craft - and this novel has several such winks and nudges - essentially looking at the holes and gaps in history and filling them with her imagination. Desmoulins is a brilliant man, but not usually a great public speaker, because he has a stutter, which, according to Mantel, began when he was sent to boarding school at seven. However, I didn’t need to, as I had no difficulty following the plot and (more or less) keeping track of who's who. I avoided googling to find out what happened so the end was a surprise (ish) to me – you won’t be surprised to know that some people lose their heads at the end!

Eulalie said, "You'll be all right with Grandmother for a few days, till your mother's feeling better. Lucile is in love with him from the beginning, even though she knows the nature of his relationship with her mother. Outside the door the surgeon had taken off his topcoat and stood with it over his arm, waiting for someone to take it away from him and hang it up. From schooldays on we are taught to regard Robespierre and Danton as evil incarnate, on a par with Hitler and with Stalin: Mantel brings off the not inconsiderable feat of presenting them as fully rounded human beings.

At some point during his childhood, Maximilien found out, or was told, that he had been conceived out of wedlock. 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. So I kept at it, and little by little it began to grip me, until, having reached the end, I felt an immense sense of loss and had immediately to go back and re-immerse myself; and then, having reached the end for a second time, could still hardly bear to say goodbye. Before that, we're treated to long scenes during the childhood, adolescence and early careers of Robespierre, Danton and Desmoulins - a bit like that opener in Wolf Hall where we see Cromwell as a young battered boy, only in the latter book Mantel then moves swiftly to the substance of her protagonist's life.

In the end A Place of Greater Safety felt intellectual satisfying, but left me feeling that most of the characters were mythologicalized, larger than life superbeings, who always have witty words ready for any situation. As I said, the book starts with each of the three main characters’ childhoods and continues through their early careers as lawyers in the early 1780s, and then through the Revolution. Ultimately, without the need for heightened drama – she doesn’t even depict the death of Robespierre.

Mantel deals meticulously, in absorbing detail, with both the causes and the course of the Revolution, but she is no drama queen. N o one had looked at his nose much before the incident, so no one could say whether a noble feature had been impaired. Later the grown-up Henriette, who was his aunt, lifted him up to look in the coffin before it was closed. She moves from past to present tense and from third person to first person narration, with the occasional instance of addressing the reader directly.First off, I have to confess that when I originally picked up the book I found the opening chapters somewhat dry and uninspiring. The executioner claims that he has to hire additional help out of his own pocket to deal with numbers, and residents complain about the smell of blood] If you like politics and a long read, this book is for you. His stepson was fourteen years old when he removed his noisy and overgrown presence to the ancient cathedral city of Troyes.

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