Merivel : A Man of His Time, Hardback Book

Merivel : A Man of His Time Hardback

5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


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:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9780701185206

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by
I note that when I first set down my Story, I speculated that there may have been more than one Beginning to it. I suggested indeed Five Beginnings. For I understood then that no life begins only when it begins, but has many additional inceptions, and each of these determine the course of what is to come.And now I see with equal clarity that a man's life may have more than one Ending.So ponders Sir Robert Merivel, protagonist of Rose Tremain's Restoration and this sequel, while reading the worm-eaten, mouse dropping stained journal found underneath his bed, now fondly referred to as The Wedge. Those who have read [Restoration] will recall some of those Beginnings: the exceptional medical skills that first called Merivel to court; the opportunities there, won and lost and won again; the revival of his devotion to medicine, first in a humble Quaker home for the insane, then in treating victims of the plague; the unexpected love for his newborn daughter. As the sequel begins, Merivel, now aged 57, has been happily settled at Bidnold for a good many years, living comfortably, if not extravagantly, on the King's annual loyer. His daughter, Margaret, has blossomed into a lovely, intelligent young woman of seventeen and is eager to see the world. When she is invited by a neighboring nobleman and his family to join them in a visit to Cornwall to see the puffins, Merivel's loneliness spurs him to seek adventure abroad. Granted a letter of introduction from the king to his cousin, Louis XIV, Merivel heads to France in hopes of finding a position in the court of Versailles.Tremain does a fine job of depicting a court that is even more insular, snobbish, and au courant than Whitehall. While Merivel never finds a position, he finds love (well, maybe) and more than a few adventures--as does Margaret, who is herself called to court--much, initially, to Merivel's dismay.Much of the pleasure of reading Merivel: A Man of His Time is in the smaller details and connections to the first novel, and I don't want to give away too many of them here. Suffice it to say that Will Gates is back, cantankerous and devoted as ever, but slowing down a bit. Rosie Pierpoint and Violet Bathurst are still in the neighborhood, and Merivel is again on good terms with the King. And there is a bear, named Clarendon by the king . . . The only reason this book received 4.5 stars instead of 5 is because I adored Restoration, and while the sequel kept me engrossed, well, it wasn't (and really couldn't be) Restoration. It would have been impossible to recreate those moments of surprise and delight, once I had been introduced to the characters and the court, as Tremain depicts them. I highly recommend reading both of Tremain's Merivel novels, in sequence, to get the most out of both.
Review by

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?

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