restoration-rose-tremainIIMarch 2014

This month’s book brought to life the customs, science and social structure of the Restoration period following the death of Cromwell and Puritanism. As ever with Tremain she shows the humanity behind dark deeds and beneath apparently superficial personalities, particularly in the protagonist, Robert Merivel.

On the death of his parents, Merivel finds himself on a visit to the palace when the King’s spaniel becomes sick. As he has some medical training he is asked to cure the dog which purely by chance recovers bringing Merivel a permanent place at court as vet to the royal dogs. He loves the life and being a bit of a fool, he entertains the King. The King’s decision to placate his favourite mistress by marrying off one of his lovers, Celia, to Merivel spells the beginning of the end for Merivel’s fortunes. As part of the marriage settlement, Merivel is given Bidnold, a house in Norfolk, which he delights in furnishing with lavish vulgarity. Warned not to fall in love with his wife as the King intends to continue seeing her, Merivel can not help himself and does just that. This means losing not only the King’s affection but also his beloved house and of course his wife.

Joining a group of Quakers led by his old friend Pearce, Robert, as he is now called to symbolise his humble status, helps them run an asylum for the insane. Here he learns that there are deeper concerns than the hedonism of court life and he becomes genuinely fond of his new friends. However in trying to help one of the inmates, he allows her to become too attached to him and again he falls to temptation and becomes intimate with her. This transgression leads to Robert being cast out, taking a pregnant Katharine with him.

The scene then moves to London where Katharine dies in childbirth but Merivel finds in his new little daughter a purpose in life. He experiences the drama of the plague and the great fire of London and for a while finds some contentment. Then one day he sees the King and a longing for the joys of the old life becomes so strong that he is compelled to contact him. A good deed to one of the monarch’s followers leads to his ‘restoration’ in the King’s favour and he returns to live permanently in his favourite room at Bidnold.

This book was enjoyed by almost everyone in the group. We loved the humour, the atmospheric creation of places and personalities and the sensuous evocation of food and libertine lifestyle. Tremain so liked the character she had created that she wrote a second book about him called ‘Merivel’. Despite his ‘hogs’ bristles’ for hair, his self indulgence and weakness in the face of temptation, we found by the end of the book we couldn’t help liking him too.

We meet again on Thursday 24 April at 7.30pm to discuss The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

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