Thursday, 17 February 2011

Hilary Mantel, A Place of Greater Safety

On the back of reading Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, I have just about finished her A Place of Greater Safety.

It is an historical, factually- based  work charting the rise and eventual fall of the heads of the main characters involved in the French Revolution; Camille Desmoulins, Maximilian Robespierre, Dr. Marat, etc.

Mantel has used her considerable imaginative powers to explore the domestic background, i.e. the female perspective, of these figures during those whirlwind years while sticking to the original script as laid down by historical events.

I have a strong interest in this period. I was once intending to research a doctorate on the difference in attitudes to intellectualism between the English and the French  since the Revolution to the present day and its consequences. So, my appreciation of the book is biased. I wonder how an uninterested reader will take to it. I believe anyone will admire the writing, but there is such a cast of characters, unless you have been previously introduced to them, they can prove confusing. Also, major events, like the desire of the protagonists to spread  their ideal to other countries [so current given what is happening in the Middle East], e.g. the French invasion to liberate the Belgium sansculotte, are necessarily glossed over or the book would run to twice its 871 pages.

I have not read Wolf Hall but it seems to me A Place of Greater Safety is a rehearsal for the work that is to win Mantel her Booker. From my perspective it is fascinating. From anyone's perspective it is a lesson in how to write character and dialogue. Her women, evil, manipulative or innocent,  are marvellous.


Chris Stovell said...

Okay, I really, really ought to pick this up again. I think she's a wonderful writer, but, I've always struggled with this one.

DOT said...

I believe it requires an interest in the topic - it is what puts me off Wolf Hall, no interest - but she is a writer I could happily strangle for being so good.

Minnie said...

How intriguing! I've read both works (and consider them her best): they can't really be compared, as her narrative style and focus is so very different - having evolved since 'A Place of Greater Safety'.
I read the latter not long after completing Simon Schama's 'Citizens', so the French revolutionary background - and foreground, even! - was familiar. Hadn't realised 'till now how valuable that had been.

DOT said...

I too have read Schama's Citizens and a great read it is too.

Mantel's work made me want to re-read A Tale of Two Cities to see how they cross relate in terms of some of the characters. (But I haven't.)