The story of three young provincials of no great heritage who together helped to destroy a way of life and, in the process, destroyed themselves: Camille Desmoulins, bisexual and beautiful, charming, erratic, untrustworthy; Georges Jacques Danton, hugely but erotically ugly, a brilliant pragmatist who knew how to seize power and use it; and Maximilien Robespierre, "the rabid lamb," who would send his dearest friend to the guillotine. Each, none older than thirty-four, would die by the hand of the very revolution he had helped to bring into being.
``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. History Book Club, QPB and BOMC alternates.
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Place of Greater Safety
This is a fabulous book in detail on the French Revolution. It is an insight to the thought processes of many "thoughtless " events tainted by terror and misunderstanding and of course human viciousness where there is no limit on human behavior.
It is a book not to be missed. Like all of Hillary's books it can not be digested in one sitting but should be visited like a lawyer visits a client. And then it should be reread to gather each detail. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are similar awe inspiring narratives on a completely different subject yet focusing on the civilized as well as the animal emotions of men and women in high places.