Book #26: "A Place of Greater Safety" by Hilary Mantel
Beginning in blood and ending in blood, this, to paraphrase Edmund Blackadder, 'huge rollercoaster of a novel, crammed with sizzling Frenchies', deals with the French Revolution and the life and times of 3 men behind (or in one case, in front of) it.
George-Jaques Danton arrives in Paris to practice law. He marries a daughter of a cafe owner. He makes friends interested in change. He is interested in money.
Camille Desmoulins arrives in Paris to practice law. After a long struggle he marries a civil servant's daughter, while being in love with his wife. He can usually be found right in the middle of a gathering talking about change. He is interested in revolution and blood.
Maximilien Robespierre arrives in Paris as a practicing lawyer from the provinces. He never marries. He doesn't make friends. He is interested in nothing.
By the time I picked up this book, through "Wolf Hall", I was familiar with Hilary Mantel.
This book has all the familiar and much loved trademarks of her writing - the easy humour, the well structured plot, the well defined, quickly becoming familiar, characters, the assumed intelligence of the readers who don't need information spoonfed to them.
One of my favourite features of this book is that all the characters, while behaving clearly French, speak in a clearly English manner, which is completely deliberate and, being familiar, makes for a much easier read.
ETA after a second reread:
How can a book so full of violence and politics have such an ethereal quality? Its words, its concepts, are weightless, floating, subtle, not burdened by unnecessary explanations and redundancies. Impropriaties, events sensitive in nature that shouldn't be spelled out, aren't. They are described with a word, a glance, a shrug. The King's execution would go over your head if you weren't pouring over every single, "precicely chosen" (points if you know where this phrase is from) word.
It's hard for me to accept that this is one of Mantel's first literary endeavours. This is a work of a professional, someone whose convictions are strong, whose vocabulary is vast, whose ideas are endless, whose spirit is free and irreverent.
Mantel takes everything that is good about classic writers and introduces it to the modern times with a wink and a slap.
This book might have been written yesterday. Its lessons could be applied today. It'll still be remembered tomorrow.