Whew....I made it.
As with Mantel's other novels, she throws out all the rules for writing a novel and comes up with an astounding result that is uniquely hers. She unapologetically assumes that her readers will already be familiar with the triple threat of the French Revolution and feels free to recreate them in her own style. Camille Desmoulins, Georges-Jacques Danton, and Maximilian Robespierre go from awkward school children to gods of their own making in this epic novel.
I saw a lot of Mantel's future Cromwell in Camille. He was dark, glowering, arrogant, snarky, and somehow sexy. In fact, many of the turns of phrase and characterizations used for this character could fit very nicely into Wolf Hall or Bring Up the Bodies.
Of course, it is heartbreaking. One spends 750 pages growing to love these bold characters only to see them snuffed out by their own policies. If you don't already know about the French Revolution before picking this up, you may want to give yourself a little lesson. I was admittedly not an expert and found myself frustrated in certain sections, wishing I had a better idea of what was going on.
I adore Mantel's Cromwell series, but reading this really opened my eyes to why so many others find her writing difficult. I didn't realize how much I was leaning on prior knowledge in order to enjoy those stories, but it became painfully clear in this one. Still, I loved her humor, her crazy style of writing that no one else can get away with, and her clever way of turning historical facts into a fresh story.
I hope to read this book again sometime when I am not so distracted by life - and after studying the events of the French Revolution in a little more detail. I feel certain that this is a book, like Mantel's others, that are rich enough in content to be enjoyed more than once.
This was read as part of a More Historical than Fiction monthly read. Join us next month!