Friday, 14 September 2012

Merivel by Rose Tremain

review by Maryom

Merivel, a Man of His Time, is the long-awaited sequel to Tremain's Booker short-listed novel, Restoration, which charted the rise, fall and recovery of  Robert Merivel, physician and friend of King Charles II. His story is picked up many years later. Merivel is now in middle age and beginning to feel his years. His daughter is grown up, ready to embark on her own career out in the world without him, the King is at Court and no longer in need of Merivel's services and he feels without purpose. Left adrift with no clear purpose to his life, Merivel even finds himself wondering about the ways in which it might end. In the grip of this mid-life crisis, he decides to go to Paris to visit the Versailles court of Louis XIV in the hope of 'employment' there as a physician.Things don't go according to plan and he leaves there, if anything, more disillusioned than ever.

Merivel is a rather melancholy book taking its tone from the lead character. Merivel looks back on his life - events seeming more exciting from the distance of time - contemplates the ageing of his close friends and  sees nothing left for him to look forward to. He's very much a man of his time in that the world no longer seems as bright and glorious as it was in the heady days of King  Charles' Restoration. Both Merivel and the world have entered a rather dull decline.
Having said all that, which might leave you feeling it was such a depressing read that you wouldn't bother with it, it's an excellent entertaining story. Tremain captures the feeling of the period very well. Without seeming quaint or strained, or even difficult to follow, the story is told in what appear to be 17th century speech patterns, rather like the extracts of Pepys' diary that I've read. There are lots of details of clothing and manners - though maybe too many of the horrors of surgery at the time.
All in all a wonderful 'period piece' and moving story.
Although a sequel it's not necessary to have read Restoration because Merivel's musings and rememberings fill in his rather more exciting past life. If like me, you saw the film version you might find images of Robert Downey Jr and Meg Ryan floating around as you read.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Chatto and Windus
Genre -historical, adult fiction

Buy Merivel: A Man of His Time from Amazon

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