Dear Hilary Mantel,
I could kiss you. Of all the books I had to read for my 18th Century Now class (which, every time I walk into that class I’m all ‘SERENITY NOW!’), your A Place of Greater Safety was the longest by about 500 pages. It was also, however, the only one that didn’t make me want to throw myself off a bridge.
Not for you the overwraught symbolism of The Life and Times of Captain N. Nor the ungainly mishmash of truth and fiction Beryl Bainbridge crammed into her According to Queeney. No dreams about falcons mating with sexy hats. No awkward, fumbling sex scenes. No idiotic titles for you; A Place of Greater Safety sounds like a book I’d pick up on my own. So, kudos and thanks.
So, how about that Robespierre, hey? Terror and all that, eh wot? Ok, I’ll be the first to admit that anything and everything I know about the French Revolution I learned from A Tale of Two Cities (so, basically I get that there was a guillotine involved, and people did a lot of knitting?). Mantel’s novel is waaaaaay more historically accurate, and everyone dies.
I feel dumb trying to sum up the plot because I have NO IDEA what happened on the real and what Mantel yanked out of her brain. So in the novel there’s a revolution but it’s sort of over there. I mean, you’re following this one particular faction that was really, really involved, but you’re more often in their drawing rooms and feeling bad for their wives than in the STREETS WITH THE BLOOD AND THE BASTILLE! VIVE LA LANTERNE!
Which, ok, if I were writing a book on the Revolution I’d be all up in the tumbrils with the doomed because I am allergic to subtlety, but I appreciate Mantel’s take. I am doing a terrible job. If you have 700+ pages of reading time to spare and you’re down with the Citizens’ Republic, get up on this.