My favourite lockdown read
In the first of a new series, Linda Camidge returns to a familiar, well-thumbed volume. But will it still work its magic?
Lockdown: and having read all the predictably relevant texts – Camus, Defoe, and a thriller called Plague by Graham Masterton, I turned to my favourite book in the world, Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety.
Why? Well for a start, it’s the classic good long read, and requires a long train journey, a short holiday or – with neither of those in prospect during 2020 – a lockdown. Next, it was five years since I’d last read it, and so its time had come round once more. And thirdly, it offered a great reminder that, however bad things might seem, however many nasty surprises had come along over the past few months, things could be far, far worse.
I love this book: its characterisation of three foreground revolutionaries (during various readings I have fallen in love with each of them), its tragic progress towards the inevitable end – and above all, the depth of insight that Mantel bought at the price of long, hard study. Relationships and domestic detail are allowed, but kept in their place: the novel is essentially about the public lives of her three leading men. Mantel also allows humour, even at the grimmest moments. I first read A Place of Greater Safety nearly 30 years ago, and when I’d finished the last page, turned back to the beginning (just to remind myself how the characters had begun)… and over the next couple of weeks, read it all over again.
But… favourite book did I say? Well, at that stage I hadn’t read the final instalment of Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. Now? Well, sorry Robespierre et al, but the inquest’s been re-opened and the jury’s out.
Give me another 30 years of reading pleasure – not too much to ask, surely – and I’ll return a verdict.