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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 September 2012
Rose Tremain returns to historical fiction with her latest novel 'Merivel' and to a wonderful character she created for one of her previous novels: Sir Robert Merivel, whom we first met in Restoration; however, it is not essential to have read 'Restoration' to enjoy this latest book. Our hero (or anti-hero), Robert Merivel, is a scoundrel, but he is also a physician and courtier at King Charles II's court. In 'Restoration' we saw Merivel rise from relative obscurity to find favour with King Charles, followed by a fall from grace, and then of his restoration to favour. In this new story, as in the previous book, we see that Merivel is well aware of the fact that if he has prospered in life, it is because he possesses the enviable talent of being able to amuse the King of England.

In 'Merivel' our story begins in 1683; we are moving towards the end of King Charles' reign and Merivel is now a man in late middle age, wondering where the years have gone and what now to do with his life. Although Merivel can see the wisdom in leading a more sober existence in his later years, he is not yet ready to lead the quiet life and is still keen for adventure and escapades. Encouraged by his daughter, Margaret, and with the agreement of the king, Merivel heads off to France where he finds himself at Versailles and the splendour of the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Expecting to be marvelled by life at the French court, Merivel is disappointed at the sordidness behind the splendour, and he is dismayed by the gaggle of squabbling fortune hunters surrounding the king. However, there are compensations in the form of a lady botanist, who is an attractive distraction from all that is going on around him and so, of course, we see Merivel setting off in pursuit of another sexual adventure. But there is the small matter of the lady's husband to contend with... And did I mention the big, brown bear that Merivel manages to acquire on his travels?

Rose Tremain has a marvellous eye for detail and she has written an engaging picaresque tale, full of roguish adventures, intrigue, comedy, romance and fleshly delights, but although parts of this story burst with life, it does have its darker moments too. In 'Restoration' Rose Tremain created a wonderfully profligate, yet generous-hearted rogue, with his stockings, knee breeches and flouncy ruffles, and it is good to see him back in the saddle in 'Merivel'; we may not always approve of his actions but we find it difficult to be too hard on the perpetrator of the deed. But is this book as good as 'Restoration'? Well it's a long time since I read 'Restoration', but 'Merivel' is a marvellously entertaining read and I'd say that, although sequels do not generally have the freshness and impact of the original novel, Rose Tremain has created a very worthy successor in 'Merivel' and, in doing so, has provided her readers with some first-rate entertainment.

5 Stars.
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on 16 October 2014
This is a sequel to Tremain’s 1989 novel – Restoration - which was a memoir of Sir Robert Merivel, physician, bon-viveur, friend of Charles II and a man who often had cause to reflect upon the unpredictable vicissitudes of life.
Having fallen out of favour with his monarch in this first book, Merivel has been given back his Norfolk property, Bidnold Manor. Time has advanced by 17 years to the early 1680s. His daughter Margaret is growing up to be a vivacious and attractive lady. But life is perhaps just a little too comfortable and unchallenging for Merivel. He gets Charles’s permission to go to Versailles and there seek a position as a court physician to King Louis. Although he is unsuccessful in this, he does meet an unhappily married intelligent Swiss lady, Louise, with whom he starts a passionate affair. Back in England though, Margaret develops typhus and Charles II visits Bidnold to attempt the King’s Cure; he stays there for some time and after her recovery, invites Margaret back to his Court as a lady-in-waiting to his new amour, Louise Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth. Merivel feels bereft and goes to Switzerland to stay with his Louise, where he finds happiness and the beginnings of peace and stability, until news reaches him of Charles II’s failing health and he is summoned back to London, to meet a rather sad conclusion to all his affairs.
Merivel is a wonderfully likable man. Compassionate, impulsive, licentious but thoroughly decent, his character develops from the opening book. Although he a fun-loving man, his essential outlook is negative, often expecting the worst to happen as the essence of the human condition. The narrative is superb and the context of late seventeenth century England feels genuine and authentic.
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on 16 February 2015
A placid and coasting follow-up to Tremain's very own masterful Restoration. While suffused with all the linguistic flourishes and character traits that held the reader in a vice in the book before, this one feels lesser, in the way all sequels usually and inadvertently do. That shocking beauty of the poetry in the artfully reconstructed syntax and the equally charming character idiosyncracies that make you go Bravo! while turning every page in the first book, skate over without impression despite these elements rigorously retained by the author. As a second time visitor to this universe, my interest veered away from the Aesthetics and into the book's Events, but other than Merivel's endearing but excessive sentimental indulgence, I found little else. Tremain's detailed and exacting construction of Merivel's thought-space from the first book was so complete, that one could second-guess the bent of his contemplation even before she has written him venturing onto it and being one step ahead of her was wearisome.

We meet him, our Reluctant Physician from the 17th century Britain two decades after we left him with a babe in his arms and the King gracing with his presence at Merivel's residence at Norfolk. His travails, in what turn out to be his final years, are suffused with a heightened self-awareness and interminable bouts of nostalgia, as he balances parenthood, an overseas dalliance and forever-remodelling terms of dotage from the King. His disarming cluelessness with accumulated years of experience in his first person monologue while soaked in emotionalism derives some humour from observing a going-senile butler, the state of the masses, his sexual adventures, notes from his travels abroad to the French court and as a cuckold to a baron's daughter in Switzerland. There are some setpieces that challenge and/or bring forth his credentials as the physician, but none have the soul-pulping transformative drama of his stay at the Bedlam from the first book. It is certainly a worthy follow-up, but also a very cautious one, never quite gathering a life of its own, and in the process, I found it a reading exercise far more disposable than Restoration.
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Rose Tremain is an author I've long admired. She knows how to craft a story, she creates extremely interesting, well rounded, individual and realistic characters, her use of language is wonderful, fitting, often very rich, but not self-indulgent. She has a great sense of time and place. And she seems to have things to say. And, almost more than this, she writes many different books - not the same one, in a formulaic fashion, over and over.

So it was a surprise, on one level, to find her revisiting the past, producing a sequel to the richly satisfying, hugely successful, Restoration, which was published more than 20 years ago. Her central character (fictitious) a larger than life physician, Robert Merival, later Sir Robert, and his relationship with Charles II (and some of the real cast of characters surrounding him) was a rich, inventive tragi-comic read.

Fast forward 17 years in the life of Merivel, and what we have is something slightly different. Age has intensified the nature of all the principal characters, both real and imagined. And Merivel has become Falstaffian in his ability to be deluded, often shallow, excessively driven by superficial desires, humorous, fun loving, clumsy, the butt of jokes - but loving, loyal, tender hearted. Like Falstaff, he is the jester who can break our hearts, and whose own heart is frequently broken, by his genuine love towards his king

This is a darker journey than Restoration. The subtext here is not the flowering and the crazy parties and the sweeping away of restriction of Restoration. Death is the constant character whose shadow grows larger. Merivel is now in his late 50s and we know this is set towards the end of Charles' reign. Remembered characters from Restoration are now either dead, or inching towards death. Often raging against the dying of the light

The reader does not need to have read Restoration to appreciate this stand-alone work. Tremain, her artistry sure, finds plausible and meaningful ways to tell the back-story. She shows her craft again here - it's a trap a lot of writers seem to stumble over - how do you give the reader information which THEY may need to know when the characters themselves will all already have that information, particularly if you are writing a first person narrative. All too often the lesser writer will have two luminaries in conversation with each other, and (for example) Albert Einstein turns to Neils Bohr and says `so let me remind you, Neils, of my Theory of Relativity' Tremain does nothing crass. What the new reader needs to know (and the old, forgetful reader to know again) is effortlessly fed in little sippets. It felt like having memory reawakened, but through the filter of an older, darkening Merivel

If this doesn't hit quite so many fizzy high spots as Restoration, and I had a few 'hmm, could it really have been like this' moments that is in keeping with a Merivel who is more conscious of where journeys must end.

One small niggle - I was slightly surprised, given the extraordinary level of widescale rumpy pumpy encounters within these pages, that in an era before prophylactics, the characters all remained pox and baby free!
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on 10 September 2012
Merivel is a complex character. At times he demonstrates very questionable morals, at other times he shows admirable compassion and understanding, particularly towards his ageing servants, who have been with him through both good and bad times. He is devoted to his daughter, Margaret, and protects her by hiding from her the history of her parentage.

Merivel seems to be either very much in favour with the King or, after having displeased him greatly, very much out of favour. His fortunes vary accordingly

As a physician he shows his caring side. Some of the descriptions of the medical procedures of the day are a bit difficult to stomach, but it is clear that he does his best to minimize discomfort for his patients.

When Margaret is planning to go away for a few weeks with her closest friend, Merivel knows he will be lonely and melancholy, and plans his own diversions. He asks King Charles for a letter of introduction to the French King, Louis XIV, at Versailles. Merivel's journey to Versailles, and his time there, are not without incident. Some of the characters he meets there, also waiting to seek audience with Louis, make a lasting impression on Merivel, and one in particular lifts him from his melancholy.

When Merivel returns to England he does not return alone. He finds that Margaret has been taken very ill and he devotes his time to caring for her and using all his medical knowledge to try to save her life.

Despite his many shortcomings, I found myself becoming very fond of Merivel, and suffered with him when times were hard.

An interesting insight into social history, the mores of the times, the comparatively basic medical knowledge of the times, and so much more.

Although this stands alone, I now want to read Restoration to read about Merivel's earlier days.

An absorbing read - thoroughly recommended.
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on 25 July 2013
I found this a really satisfying read that developed a powerful cumulative effect as it went on. Readers of Restoration won't be disappointed by another picaresque plot, and Merivel is as charming as ever - but beneath the surface the story is a shrewd and warm hearted reflection on the foolishnesses, frustrations, ironies and misplaced hopes of growing old. Perhaps I felt this so strongly because I'm a similar age to the Merivel we meet in this book, but I was certainly deeply moved.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 November 2012
A very enjoyable second instalment of the adventure of Merivel at the court (to some degree) and in the time of Charles II. As with the first book, this has a very episodic structure - and we have life waiting at the court of the Sun King to see the Sun King, life back on the Norfolk estate with 17 year old daughter and King Charles, life visiting a paramour in Switzerland (with the excitement of a duel thrown in), and a final section, The Great Transition, bringing us to the end of Charles' reign.

Altogether, this is very satisfying and very enjoyable. Rose Tremain has thought herself into what looks like a very plausible character, but more than that into very interesting 17th century modes of thought and expression. Has coupled this with historical insight into the reign. And with a flowing and compelling narrative in which you never know what is coming next - but you do know that you are going to enjoy it.

Strongly recommended!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 January 2015
The best I can say is that it was a moderately enjoyable read. It didn't give me much of a historical feel as Restoration did. Perhaps it was exaggerated, or perhaps it is that in the intervening time I read 4 CP Sansom novels set in te time of Henry VIII which set a higher standard of historical accuracy.

The sub header - a man of his Times - is, I think supposed to indicate that the book is about Merivel's decline along with the crown. The author seems to have decided that a good way to express this was by making both Merivel and the king extremely lewd and though I am sure that people in those days were as rampant as they are today, the impression given just wasn't very believable.
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on 14 October 2013
Robert Merivel is in danger of succumbing to the Melancholy. Having risen, fallen and risen again during the gaudy years of the Restoration, Merivel's heyday as physician and courtier to Charles II seems long ago. After having regained possession of Bidnold Manor Merivel sought to enjoy a quiet [though certainly not monk-like] life away from the bustle and intrigue of London but he fears that he has given in too easily to the anxieties and distresses of middle age. He worries that his daughter Margaret must soon leave Bidnold for good when she has decided upon a worthy suitor. He worries that his faithful servant Will is in terminal decline and that any attempt to ease the old man's duties will lead to a servants' mutiny. He worries about his actions in the past and how he will be remembered in the future.

Fortunately, at heart Merivel is a true bon vivant and so can't sit and wallow for long. He determines to forcibly remove himself from his rut and sets off in search of answers to life, the universe and everything. Questions as important as these can only be answered from a real hub of humanity and so, after obtaining a letter of introduction from the King, Merivel travels to Versailles, the luminous centre of the French court. As Merivel should have known though, all that glitters is not gold and soon the squalor that abuts the decadent court sends him spiralling into despair. Things seem grim until Merivel chances upon Madame de Flamanville, Swiss botanist and femme fatale, and begins to dream of a better future once again.

Merivel: A Man of His Time is a welcome opportunity to catch up with the delightful Robert Merivel. First introduced in Restoration, Merivel is a delightful Everyman, an unlikely hero with the power to see everything - even his own more startling [and often lustful] faults - in a positive light. Merivel is charming without trying, an outrageously funny character with a knack for wandering into unfortunate or peculiar situations, he manages to be by turns frivolous and achingly sorrowful. Still somewhat of an outsider to the world of the lordly and superrich, he is a perfect guide to the fascinating world of post-Restoration England and to the court of Versailles.

Rose Tremain is incredibly good at world-building and historical recreation. Both Restoration and Merivel provide great insight into life during the 17th century. Through the eyes of Merivel it is possible to observe the decadence and hopefulness of the early years of the reign of Charles II and then the inevitable disappointment when reality sets in later on. Being a particularly observant chap [at least where his own interests are not significantly at stake] Merivel is able to see the differences in life that exist for the rich and for the poor. He has compassion, if not always patience, for his servants and actually does wish to behave well to everyone. Merivel himself is in the interesting position of being neither poor nor astonishingly rich and important. He gets to mix with royalty but is still left to question in Merivel whether he is the king's friend or the king's slave.

Merivel: A Man of His Time is an excellent novel. With a brilliant central character and a fascinating plot that crosses countries, visits the extraordinary and the incredibly mundane, it is thrilling reading. The more mature Merivel is increasingly prone to introspection but still finds time to engage in frivolous and often hilarious pursuits [pet bear anyone?] and so there is plenty of amusement to be found in his [mis]adventures. Merivel is an informative historical novel that is also incredibly entertaining.
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