As heard on 'Book at Bedtime', BBC Radio 4 The gaudy years of the Restoration are long gone.
Robert Merivel, physician and courtier to Charles II, loved for his gift to turn sorrow into laughter, now faces the agitations and anxieties of middle age.
Questions crowd his mind: has he been a good father?
Is he a fair master? Is he the King's friend or the King's slave? In search of answers, Merivel sets off for the French court.
But Versailles - all glitter in front and squalor behind - leaves Merivel in despair, until a chance encounter with Madame de Flamanville, a seductive Swiss botanist, allows him to dream of an honourable future.
But will that future ever be his? Back home at Bidnold Manor, his loyalty and medical skill are tested to their limits, while the captive bear he has brought back from France begins to cause unlooked-for havoc in his heart and on his estate.
With a cascade of lace at his neck and a laugh that can burst out of him in the midst of torment, Merivel is a uniquely brilliant creation, soulful, funny, outrageous and achingly sad. He is Everyman. His unmistakable, self-mocking voice speaks directly to us down the centuries.
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 352 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 06/09/2012
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9780701185206
Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.
Review by Cariola
Review by pierthinker
Merivel has reached into high echelons in English society, partly through his own skills and talents (mainly for making the King, Charles II, laugh) and partly through his acquiescence in underhand schemes (he marries the King's mistress to hide the affair from the rests of society). He is reasonably rich, well-known, well-liked and 57 years old. He spends much time wondering where his life went and whether he has made a difference, or, at least, made a mark. He wants to believe his life has been worthwhile and that his efforts have left the world a better place for him having been in it. As a man of his time - 57 is old in the 1680s - his mortality looms large in his thinking. As a man of his time - Restoration England - he sees his own worth measured to much by what others think, whether that is the King or his faithful servant, Will.Tremain gives us a masterful work, combining a vivid, colourful and immediate vision of life at this time with great insights into the mind of an intelligent and inquisitive not-quite-there-social-climber looking back over his life. This is as truthful a vision of a man come to see the beginnings of his own mortality and shuddering under the weight of things he should have done or should have turned away from as can be; as a 59 year old man I see more of a reflection in Merivel than is comfortable.This is ultimately a sad, but not sombre, book and on balance Merivel is more hero than villain. How close is Clarenden the bear a metaphor for Merivel himself?