Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday, 12 August 2013

Merivel: A Man of His Time - Rose Tremain - Guest review

Sir Robert Merivel is a deeply-flawed but loveable character, whose early life was chronicled in Tremain’s Booker short-listed novel Restoration. Born to an honest, God-fearing haberdasher, Merivel trains as a medic before becoming a favourite in the court of  King Charles. A life of debauchery and sexual excess is funded by the crown, Merivel’s reward for being a paper-groom to the king’s youngest mistress. But he makes a big mistake, and pays dearly for it; destitute, he is cast out of his beloved home Bidnold and is forced to beg his Quaker friend Pearce for shelter. And there is worse to come…

By the time we meet Merivel at the beginning of this sequel, his fortunes have once again changed. Restored to the King’s favour and to Bidnold, he is cared for by his devoted staff and adored by his beautiful daughter. Happy, but restless, he undertakes a journey to Versailles and the court of Louis, the Sun King.

I have had a copy of Restoration on my shelf for some years and it was only the arrival of a review copy of Merivel that made me lift it down. Although Merivel can be read as a stand-alone novel, it helps to have an understanding of the relationships that have evolved in the earlier novel. Although I’ve read a range of historical novels from Phillipa Gregory to Elizabeth Chadwick, from Georgette Heyer to Anya Seton, I’m not a great connoisseur of the genre. I enjoy some, but very often I find an author’s need to adhere to historical accuracy results in lacklustre storytelling and unimaginative characterisation.

Not so with Tremain. Sir Robert Merivel is a gem. His story is told in first person in a journal that he calls The Wedge. His observations on life are suffused with self-deprecating humour; even at his most debauched and reckless he maintains a comic and painful self-awareness. For all his faults, he is loyal to both his monarch and his staff, cares for his patients with tenderness and insight, and constantly strives to be a better man. It is easy to feel a certain fondness for Merivel, especially having followed his changing fortunes as a young man.

The settings are richly detailed, whether Tremain is describing the excesses of the English and French courts, the poverty of the Whittlesea Asylum or the steamy (in all senses!) laundry owned by the voluptuous Rosie Pierpoint. The language is sufficiently archaic to be credible as a Restoration text without being inaccessible to a modern reader. The supporting cast of characters is diverse and interesting: the lovers, the courtiers, the servants, the craftsmen, the Quakers and their insane patients – each has his or her own story, contributing to a densely textured evocation of the Restoration period.

Highly recommended – but if, like me, you have a copy of Restoration on a dusty shelf, do yourself a favour and read that first. 

Published by Chatto & Windus

Reviewed by Angi Holden - guest reviewer.

Many thanks to Angi for kindly reading and reviewing this novel for The Little Reader Library.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed Angi’s review and am very tempted to go out a buy a copy of Restoration and Merivel.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Barbara, much appreciated.


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