Rose Tremain’s Restoration is probably one of the most popular novels set in the seventeenth century, and with good reason: it’s a great book. Originally published back in 1989, I was but four years old and obviously far too young to read it. That being said, it is lamentable that it took until 2015 for me to get around to reading it. The paperback copy I own from Vintage is 399 pages and the unabridged audio version is a little over 13 hours long. There is humour throughout the story, and I particularly enjoyed Merivel’s description of himself in the first chapter:
Look at me. Without my periwig, I am an affront to neatness. Mu hair (what is left of it) is the colour of sand and wiry as hogs’ bristles; my ears are of uneven size; my forehead is splattered with freckles; my nose…is unceremoniously flat, as if I had been hit at birth.
Was I hit at birth?
Tremain’s book is written in the first person, which doesn’t usually work for me, but I really enjoyed this. The book follows the misadventures of Robert Merivel, who is really immature and even a little thick at times, despite being a rather gifted physician. In his pursuit of pleasures, finery, and a courtier lifestyle at Whitehall, he loses sight (if indeed he ever had it) of the important things in life. Merivel is, at the beginning of the story (and indeed in several episodes throughout), a very weak fellow. Some reviewers stated that Merivel doesn’t change, and I would have to disagree – the reduced circumstances he lives through do impact him, although he perhaps isn’t able to see it for himself. He loves people he shouldn’t, and doesn’t love those whom he should – a problem that faces many people I think!
For seventeenth-century history lovers, this book is great because Charles II is a regular character, and events such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London are important features of the book. Tremain adds great descriptions of Restoration clothes and includes medical procedures (and quack doctors) and gives what I thought was very good imagery of life during the reign of Charles II.
I saw the film three years ago and I can now see how utterly poor the casting was – especially for Katherine, who is described in the book as having long black hair, a large body and large breasts. The actress in the film had strawberry-blonde hair and was very slim. I’ll leave the rest of my thoughts on the 1995’s casting for a later post about the film itself.
Like most of the reading I do solely for enjoyment, I listened to this on Audible, and Paul Daneman’s narration was utterly superb – very similar to Martin Jarvis in his ability to take on different characterisations for the characters in the story.
One good thing about waiting over two decades to read a popular book: I have Tremain’s sequel, Merivel: A Man of His Time, ready for me to enjoy.
SCL rating 4.5/5