This tale is set in the latter years of the reign of Charles II. Sir Robert Merivel was ennobled by Charles II for agreeing to marry a woman Charles wanted as a mistress; his estate of Bidnold is funded by the King but must be ready at all times for the King's visits.
The book starts with Sir Robert, or Merivel as he prefers his friends to call him, in the company of his most faithful servant Will, who is now unsteady. Merivel knows that he can never discard loyal Will, for where would he go but the workhouse, although Will is becoming more and more a liability, and Merivel foresees that one day the tables will be turned and he will begin to nurse Will.
And so we begin to explore the character of the remarkable Merivel. His haberdasher parents died in a fire. He became a surgeon and then found favour with the King first by amusing him and then by becoming a professional cuckold. After incurring the displeasure of the King for trying to bed his own wife, Merivel fled to work with a group of Quakers who were administering to lunatics. Now he is restored to Bidnold but when his daughter announces her plans for going to Cornwall on a holiday with their neighbours, Merivel decides to travel to Versailles.
The plot is picaresque, meandering from episode to episode. Perhaps this is the point. It is like life: without purpose or direction but only a continuous muddle. He pays a treasured ring to rescue a captive bear from death but in the end the bear must still die after living in captivity. Perhaps this is a metaphor for Sir Robert's own life.
But what all the episodes reveal is the wonderful character of Sir Robert Merivel. For he is a weak mortal, marvellous in his frailty. He tries to do his best but is all too aware how often his good intentions are not enough. He is afraid of marriage because he is only too aware that he lets people down.
I have never read Rose Tremain before but I must find another book by her because I loved the way she portrayed a character and the readability of even such a wandering plot.
Packed with episodes, not all coherent, and dedicated to the study of a genuine man. December 2013; 341 pages
I have now read the first book about Robert Merivel, Restoration, which is reviewed here.
I have now also read The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain about a boy growing up in post WWII Switzerland. Such a different setting but such a similar style.
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57