A Place of Greater Safety A Novel

Hilary Mantel




Trade Paperback

768 Pages


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It is 1789, and three young provincials have come to Paris to make their way. Georges-Jacques Danton, an ambitious young lawyer, is energetic, pragmatic, debt-ridden—and hugely but erotically ugly. Maximilien Robespierre, also a lawyer, is slight, diligent, and terrified of violence. His dearest friend, Camille Desmoulins, is a conspirator and pamphleteer of genius. A charming gadfly, erratic and untrustworthy, bisexual and beautiful, Camille is obsessed by one woman and engaged to marry another, her daughter. In the swells of revolution, they each taste the addictive delights of power, and the price that must be paid for it.


Praise for A Place of Greater Safety

"Mantel's writing is so exact and brilliant that, in itself, it seems an act of survival, even redemption."—Joan Acocella, The New Yorker
"Brilliant, edgy historical fiction that captures the whiplash flux of the French Revolution with crisp immediacy on the page."—The Seattle Times
"The turmoil of the French Revolution provides the setting for Mantel's American debut, an encompassing historical novel. The principal protagonists—Robespierre, Desmoulins, and Danton—are portrayed in depth as real people, from their troubled childhoods through their downfalls. Interspersed with their stories are the lesser dramas being enacted in this turbulent era, including the loves, rivalries, successes, and despair of the many participants. The author does a commendable job of presenting the metamorphosis of the revolution from its tenuous, fledgling state to the bloodbath of the Reign of Terror, which ultimately turned on its own. . . . this novel is for serious readers of the genre."—Maria A. Perez-Stable, Western Michigan University Libraries, Kalamazoo, Library Journal
"An epic of extraordinary detail and depth . . . [it] moves beyond the realm of an absorbing yarn into the arena of a literary masterpiece."—Booklist
"British novelist Mantel weighs in with her American debut: a massively impressive, painstakingly detailed saga of the French Revolution as its leaders lived it. Citizens Danton, Desmoulins, and Robespierre are the primary figures in this historical epic, as each moves from provincial beginnings to Paris and a larger-than-life status in the heady days of revolutionary fervor and terrible excess. Lawyers all, their inclinations and positions allow them to step into roles for which they are well-suited: Danton as the manly, vainglorious hero, as committed and bold as he is self-interested; Robespierre as the tireless conscience of the Revolution, reluctant to accept the power thrust upon him but with an ascetic temperament that brooks no compromises with lesser mortals when he does; and Desmoulins, the go-between, flamboyant and inflammatory, devoted to his friends and sexually ambivalent. Each man moves to his separate but equal destiny through a rich field of characters and images, with wives and family members, sans-culottes and royalty, friends and supporters all revealed in telling detail. The intricacies of political maneuvering in a time of social upheaval are handled with sensitivity and wonderful dexterity, with the final crack in the revolutionary facade that brought Robespierre to turn his allies over to the executioners—in effect destroying all they had struggled together to build—being evident long before it becomes visible. Re-creating the fullness of history with its wealth of human faces and failings, this is a lively, engrossing tale of power, glory, and despair."—Kirkus Reviews
"'History is fiction,' Robespierre observes at one point during British writer Mantel's monumental fictive account of the French Revolution, her first work to appear in this country. In her hands, it is a spellbinding read. Mantel recounts the events between the fall of the ancien regime and the peak of the Terror as seen through the eyes of the three protagonists—Robespierre, Danton and Desmoulins—and a huge cast of supporting characters (including brief appearances by the scrofulous Marat). The three revolutionaries, longtime acquaintances, spend their days scheming and fighting for a corruption-free French Republic, but their definitions of 'corrupt' are as different as the men themselves. Robespierre is the fulcrum. Rigidly puritanical, he is able to strike terror into the most stalwart of hearts, and his implacable progress towards his goal makes him the most formidable figure of the age. As the lusty, likable and ultimately more democratic Danton observes, it is impossible to hurt anyone who enjoys nothing. The feckless, charming Camille Desmoulins, loved by all but respected by few, dances between the two, writing incendiary articles to keep the flames of revolt alive. Mantel makes use of diaries, letters, transcripts and her own creative imagination to create vivid portraits of the three men, their families, friends and the character of their everyday lives. Her gift is such that we hang on to every word, following bewildering arguments and Byzantine subplots with eager anticipation. This is historical fiction of the first order."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

A Place of Greater Safety
Louis XV is named the Well-Beloved. Ten years pass. The same people believe the Well-Beloved takes baths of human blood ... . Avoiding Paris, ever shut up at Versailles, he finds even there too many people, too much daylight. He wants a shadowy retreat ... .In a year of scarcity (they were not uncommon then) he was hunting as usual in the Forest of Sénart. He met a peasant carrying a bier and inquired, "Whither he was conveying it?" "To such a place." "For a man or a woman?" "A man." "What did he die of?" "Hunger."JULES MICHELETCHAPTER
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  • Hilary Mantel

  • Hilary Mantel has written nine novels including, most recently, Beyond Black and a highly acclaimed memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. She lives with her husband in England.
  • Hilary Mantel John Haynes
    Hilary Mantel