Posted 20 hours ago

A Place of Greater Safety

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Cromwell’s downfall and death are a matter of fact; Mantel’s skill is never to let the tension drop as the mythologised life of an ordinary man, with no pedigree, unravels amid the treachery of a class-based realpolitik.

Mantel has been meticulous about her facts and dates, but the decision to make Cromwell our trusted protagonist is entirely a matter of fictional will. For a while, Robespierre is able to protect Desmoulins and Danton, whose vices were making him a target as well, out of friendship.

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.

A couple of years earlier Mantel had published a huge historical novel, A Place of Greater Safety, that now looks like invaluable groundwork for her Thomas Cromwell books, but at the time seemed out of the path of her other fiction. Mantel’s novel makes Jeddah a place of nightmare where Frances experiences something like total erasure. He sees the giant who is the novel’s other main character come from Ireland to get money by displaying himself, and he covets his bones for his private museum in Leicester Square.


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