My Life in Books: Restoration
One of my first jobs was in a book shop (1989-1991), and at the time each employee was allocated particular publishers, and part of their job was to see the publishers’ rep when they came to the shop and listen to the pitch for new releases. Sometimes the reps arrived armed with free copies of these new books, and this is how I ended up with a copy of Rose Tremain’s ‘Restoration’, because in 1989 I had the Hamish Hamilton list.
Surprisingly, because I wouldn’t have thought it was my sort of thing, I really enjoyed this book. It revolves around the escapades of one Robert Merivel, favoured physician in James II’s court. He’s not a terribly nice character at the start of the book – a self-centred, womanising rogue – but there’s a charm to him that makes you empathise with him anyway. The King orders Merivel to marry his favourite mistress, the idea being that he can keep her close to hand without rousing the suspicions of his other mistresses, confident in the concept that Merivel is too fond of ladies in general to get attached to just one. When Merivel commits the unpardonable sin of falling in love with his wife, he is banished from court, and the rest of the book is a story of his journey back to respectability. He learns how to put aside his philandering ways and gains respect for women, and also discovers respect for himself.
Perhaps it is Rose Tremain’s writing style that endeared me to this character, but he changes and matures throughout the story in a way that I found engaging. Merivel’s indiscretions include a dalliance with an attractive young woman in a mental hospital, and when she dies giving birth to his baby, he is left with a daughter to take care of and that is one of the key things that makes him re-assess his priorities.
I read this book once, over twenty years ago, but it stayed with me. I was pleased to learn recently that Rose Tremain has written a sequel to ‘Restoration’, set seventeen years on, with Merivel an older (though probably not much wiser) man and his daughter Margaret grown and ready to make her own way in the world. This book is now in my To Be Read pile, and I am looking forward to visiting Robert Merivel again.