Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Published 1992 (1st Edition), Viking, ISBC 978-0-00-725055-4, 872 pages

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel tells the stories of Georges-Jacques Danton, Maximilien Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins, three major players during the French Revolution commencing 1789.

About ten years ago, after a lifetime of forcing myself to read every book I started, I made a pact with myself not to waste time on a novel I was not enjoying.  There are so many novels awaiting me, I decided I'd much rather be reading something pleasurable.  After all, reading time is much coveted in a busy life.

I have previously read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, which took perserverance to get past the first 100 pages.  Once I had accomplished that, I did truly enjoy the book.  I thought the same might happen with A Place of Greater Safety.

Hilary Mantel has a unique writing style, which can be difficult to assimilate and often dissuades readers.  Several of my friends mentioned they could not "get into" Wolf Hall.

At page 384 of A Place of Greater Safety, I admitted defeat.   I just could not see attempting to understand a further 500 pages, when I was still completely lost at page 384.  Mantel's goal (if I even have this right) was to interpret each of the three main characters personalities rather than the horrific events that took place at the time.  For instance, the fall of the Bastille seemed hardly the major occurence it was.

Mantel changes points of view so frequently I sometimes had to reread to figure out which character was currently highlighted.  All of which took me completely out of the book.  One character's point of view might be one paragraph long and then, suddenly, you are thrust into a different point of view consisting of several pages.  Another disconcerting tactic was referring to the reader during narrative.

The novel seems to be one of telling, rather than showing through action and dialogue.  I felt absolutely no connection to any character.

I acknowledge the French Revolution had an immense cast of characters and the political factions are quite confusing.  This novel did nothing to help me understand this tumultous time in French history other than the common people were starving and bread prices were out of reach.  This I already knew.

An online search of reviews reveals mixed reactions.  Some felt A Place of Greater Safety was an exceptional book; others found it erractic and incomprehensible.

I leave to the choice up to you.

My rating:  * (Not recommended)

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