MARCH READING: Merivel by Rose Tremain


 Aaah, just like meeting an old friend! Sir Robert Merivel: the most human of human beings you are ever likely to meet. Flawed in many ways like all of us, at times unlikeable, but ever committed to trying to do his best in life, trying to improve himself both emotionally and materially, open to others and other ideas, he could be a man of any time including our time.

Robert Merivel was first introduced to us in the novel 'Restoration', which I reviewed in December. Some say you don't need to have read 'Restoration' to enjoy this novel; I disagree. Sir Robert is a very complex fellow, who has an extraordinary time during the early years of King Charles II reign. In a nutshell the book covers his rise to a position of prominence in the court, and then his fall from grace, and personal restoration. I would not have enjoyed 'Merivel' so much if I had not known the background to the type of man he is now, some 15 years after 'Restoration' ended.

Sir Robert Merivel is now 57, again at a crossroads, as he tries to decide what to do with the rest of his life. His beloved daughter Margaret, is now a young woman wanting to become more independent and spread her wings. So Sir Robert, back in King Charles' good books, obtains a letter of introduction to the French court and heads off to Versailles. He does not manage to meet the King, but along the way, in his rakish fashion, does develop a relationship with a particularly beautiful and well-connected married lady who falls madly in love with him, plus acquires a bear.

Things take a darker turn when he returns to England - his daughter is seriously ill with typhoid, his ex lover is dying of cancer, the local rural population is becoming restless and unhappy with the excesses of the royal court, the bear also does not last the distance. Melancholy sets in and poor old Sir Robert wonders what it is all for. After all late 50s would be considered old age in this period of history. The aging King takes a shine to the lovely Margaret and Robert frets and frets about her becoming yet another mistress to the King.

But never fear, love is still here. His old flame in France is committed to marrying him, which would solve many many problems, but, in true Robert fashion opens the door to other problems as he deals with a number of internal conflicts.

This novel does not have quite the same depth and scope as 'Restoration', but I enjoyed reading it so much more. As I said it was like meeting an old friend, and I felt genuine affection for this silly old fool. By the end everything is very neatly resolved with the reign of King Charles over and Sir Robert looking forward to a new life in Switzerland. Such a worth while sequel to 'Restoration'.

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