Friday, May 30, 2008
Have you heard about Patti Abbott's Friday Forgotten Books project? Death Was the Other Woman author Linda L. Richards has tagged me to write up this week's "Forgotten Book," and I'm thrilled to participate. In brief, Patti started this project stating: I'm worried great books of the recent past are sliding out of print and out of our consciousness. Not the first-tier classics we all can name, but the books that come next. And authors and bloggers have been diligent about digging up some wonderful reads. (For some of them, check out Patti's blog.)
For my turn, I'm picking Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety, a book I find myself re-reading regularly. It's historical fiction, but like all Mantel's work, defiantly unsentimental. Instead, as it follows the fathers of the French Revolution Camille Desmoulins, Jacques Danton, and Maximilien Robbespierre and their colleagues from their bourgeois upbringing through to their end, in the Terror of their own creating, it celebrates the blood lust in all of us, as enthusiasm begets cruelty and passion consumes itself. Along the way, it also gives very plausible reasons for things turning out as they do, in the great dance with Mme Guillotine, shifting in view point between the characters and a cool historical ominpotence, noting in little historical asides: Under the bridges, by dim and precarious fires, the destitute wait for death. A loaf of bread is fourteen sous, for the New Year. I love it.
As you can probably tell, Mantel is a writer of extremes. She tends toward either short, dark novels, like Fludd and The Giant O'Brien, or oversize ones like this and the recent, and also very lovely, Beyond Black. The emotions and themes in all her books, even the tiny ones, are intense, set off by writing so dry it verges on cryptic, a quality I noticed recently in a very short essay she'd authored for Granta on finding an icon in a Jiddah souk. I now look for her everywhere. In between novels, she shows up regularly in the pages of the New York Review of Books and other journals. But A Place of Greater Safety is the one I come back to. I was given this book by my husband, who received a review copy and brought it home to me because of its size (748 pp.) He knows I'm a fast reader and figured this would last me a while. It has.
(I've chosen to show this 1998 edition, which is the one I have, rather than the 2006 paperback because of its cover. Same book, but this cool paperback features a detail of a portrait of Desmoulins by Bole.)
And for next week, I tag Caroline Leavitt.