Sunday, 16 October 2011

If this were a marathon, I'm sure there'd be a sign around about now saying, 'Don't Give Up. There's Only Five More Miles To Go.'
Whew ... I'm 570 pages in which means there's only 300 pages to go and I feel as if I've been reading this forever. Well, about a fortnight, but when did a book ever take me a fortnight?
Seeing that wonderful documentary recently about Hilary Mantel, being interviewed by James Runcie, gave me the urge to read some more. Much as I absolutely loved Wolf Hall (and that didn't take me a fortnight, I devoured it in three or four days, sitting up at night because I couldn't bear to put it down), I'd only read one of her other novels, Beyond Black, which was all a bit too fey and supernatural for me.
A Place of Greater Safety is her mammoth novel about the French Revolution. It took me a while to get into it, because it's been a long time since I've been in the company of Danton and Desmoulins, Girondins and Montagnards, etc etc etc and even in my student days, I used to get them all in a bit of a muddle. Now, at last, I'm beginning to grasp who's who.
(If only I'd been able to read this back in 1974 when Jacobins and Jacobites were all in a tangle in my A-level brain.)
It's brilliant and it makes history come alive. But I'm not loving it as much as Wolf Hall. There's so many different characters to keep track of ... and although I've found myself developing a sneaky fondness for charming, unreliable Desmoulins and even for ascetic Robespierre (who'd have thought it, after growing up on The Scarlet Pimpernel?), there's so many of them, and all their wives, fiancées and in-laws, that it's not quite as satisfying as falling head over heels for Thomas Cromwell.
Meanwhile, my tumbril awaits and it's back to Paris for those last 300 pages, where things are getting bloodier and bloodier ...

9 comments:

Toffeeapple said...

Rather you than me Mary, that one sounds a lot like hard work.

mary said...

Wouldn't be everybody's cup of tea, Toffeeapple. And I think you'd need at least a passing acquaintance with the French Revolution to get you started ... it's not for complete beginners!
Must admit, I have something much lighter lined up for when I've finished.

Cornflower said...

Reading it, you can see why it took a while to be published, and how much HM has refined her style since she wrote it.

mary said...

Karen, it's definitely not as polished as Wolf Hall. But imagine undertaking two such epics in one lifetime!
Of course, what I'm really waiting for is Wolf Hall 2.

victoriacorby said...

I'm reading A Place of Greater Safety too, it's taking a loooong time. Partially I think because the subject is so very grim, there's only so much you can take at a time.

mary said...

I finished it, at last, Victoria, but I was struggling towards the end. I don't think I could have managed it in short bursts or I'd have forgotten who was who. More than 150 characters. I counted! I was so ready for something gentler, when I'd finished, that I got a Barbara Pym out of the library ... and I don't even like Barbara Pym! I think I needed the world of silly English spinsters as an antidote to all that blood and gore.

readersguide said...

Have you read Eight Months on Ghazzah Street? Very different, but also very good, I thought. About a western woman living with her husband (who's an engineer or something) in Saudi Arabia -- creepy in a very strange way -- but really good.

mary said...

Hello, Readersguide - nice to meet you! I haven't read that one but it sounds good. I seem to recall that in that TV interview I mentioned, HM said it was based on her own experiences living there. I must look out for it in the library but I feel I need some recovery time after the French Rev!

readersguide said...

I think it is based on her own experiences -- i think her husband is a geologist or something posted over there. Hello!