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Worth the wait follow up to Restoration
on 5 September 2012
Rose Tremain has made fans of her 1989 book "Restoration" wait for a long time before picking up the story of Sir Robert Merivel. Almost as much time has passed in Merivel's world with the book opening in 1683. Leaving a follow up so long can be fraught with danger. For those, like me, who loved "Restoration" at the time, the memory of its central character has grown in fondness over time while some of the detail has been inevitably lost to memory. Thankfully, this is one of those rare things in literature; a very good follow up.
The ideal preparation for this book is probably that you have read "Restoration" but forgotten some of the detail, as Tremain recaps events and Merivel's narration refers to events of the past and to his writing of the first book. This means that you don't strictly have to have read "Restoration" first, and it reveals some light spoilers to the plot if you read them out of order. Although while plot development is part of the joy of the books, the main joy is the characterization of Merivel himself.
Merivel, to the uninitiated, is a physician and courtier to King Charles II. A Falstaff-type character, he is self-depreciating and has an uncanny ability to attract and usually overcome disaster. His behaviour is often selfish and disreputable, but he has a warm heart beneath his rolls of corpulence and he's hard not to love.
What "Merivel" lacks in comparison with "Restoration" is the mirroring of personal events with political times, when Merivel's fortunes and favour with Charles are restored in just the same way as the King is restored to the throne of England. Instead we get the end of the King's reign and Merivel at a loss to find his purpose in live. Also lacking is Merivel's moral sidekick from "Restoration", the Quaker Pearce, although his voice is still much in Merivel's mind.
There's a sadness to Merivel's life as he recalls his glory days. Setting off in search of adventure, he finds himself variously in the Versailles court of King Louis and even as far as Switzerland, inevitably for Merivel, in pursuit of romance. Along the way he acquires a bear and loses those close to him. Part of Merivel's charm has always been his balancing of hope and despair. He is constantly torn by his loves for animals, his daughter, his staff and his king and his love for selfish advancement. Sub-titled "A Man of His Time", Merivel is an everyman with very human qualities that the reader can associate with.
This is historic fiction at its most entertaining and a worthy successor to "Restoration". As even King Charles appreciates, time spent with Merivel is seldom time wasted. You may well need a handkerchief, ideally laundered by Merivel's frequent bedfellow and laundry woman, Rosie Pierpoint, towards the end of the book. Where Merivel goes, disaster is seldom far away so what more could you expect.
"Restoration" is one of my all time favourite novels. To even come close to this is no small achievement and "Merivel A Man of His Time" does not disappoint.