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A Place of Greater Safety

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In real life de Robespierre started there aged 11 in October 1769, staying until he was 23, studying to be a solicitor. Mantel uses multiple styles in her creation: writing in the third and first person; inserting occasional historic quotes; recreating those newspaper entries; entering conversations between various important persons; presenting imagined diary entries and private thoughts.

Here, though, her approach is more diffuse as she follows her triad: volatile and vulnerable Camille Desmoulins, bold and fleshy Danton with his charisma and his grubby morals, and the troubled intellectual fervour of Maximilien Robespierre.He was a mild, easygoing man who pleased his wife by doing exactly as she told him; much of his time nowadays he spent in an outlying farm building where he was inventing a machine for spinning cotton. This was another buddy read with my friend Jemidar, who shares my fan girl enthusiasm for Hilary Mantel's writing. In Mantel’s version of events, he is bisexual, but I do not know whether this is true of the real Desmoulins or not. Camille," he says, "get down from there, if you drop out onto the cobbles and damage your brain you will never make an alderman. Le lycée Louis-le-Grand is on la rue Saint-Jacques which traces the route of le cardo maximus de Lutèce, the great Roman south-to-north axis road of Paris.

Throughout the book, I had to keep reminding myself that this actually happened and that Hilary Mantel had based the story on factual evidence.These chances are few and far between; we have to get on in this world, no good to be done by clinging to women's apron strings. Standing on the window seat now, his son leans out over the square, and gives him a commentary on who comes and goes.

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 over 800 pages Mantel brilliantly describes the lives, from childhood, of three main characters of the French Revolution : Danton, Camille and Robespierre - how they meet in adulthood, become acquainted [and friends] and how their politics bring them together [and apart] in the turmoil of events of1789 and beyond. We see glimpses of tensions that shaped the revolutionaries world, like Paris versus the rest of the country, but in the end I felt I got very little external background on France and Europe and the struggles driving the main characters. How something so horrific could possibly happen is shown through full characterizations and likely scenarios that don't stray from the historical record, though we don't get (or need) all the details. A few reviews I read did say that once you had got past half way and had less left to read than you had already read it became easier – I disagree as instead I found myself trying to race to the end and getting frustrated that I couldn’t get there.The pages fanned over--the fox and the cat, the tortoise and the hare, wise crow with his glinting eye, the honey bear under the tree.

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