The well known grumble of the sequel being the bane of the literary world has truly seen its day. Rose Tremain’s exciting new work, Merivel, A Man of His Time follows the eponymous Sir Robert, physician to the spaniels of King Charles II, returns enamoured of his exploits in Restoration, Tremain’s earlier 1989 work.
Following the restoration of his estates at Bidnold, Norfolk, and his position beside the King, Merivel’s adventures are advanced sixteen years, yet the 58 year old continues to enjoy the typical pursuits of youth, debauchery and gluttony abundance, on his road to self-discovery. Slowly however, the reader can begin to see a maturation in his ebullient and self-deceiving character. He progresses well with his daughter, cementing their relationship as she grows, where he must eventually allow her to leave Norfolk for the charm of Stuart Whitehall. The same ripening can be seen in his attitude towards the King, as he makes his pride known as the royal nears the stage of his reign Merivel never thought would come.
The reader sees the splendour of Versailles, Paris, and Neuchatel in Switzerland, as well as the familiar terrains of Norfolk and early-modern London, as Sir Robert seeks fulfilment beyond his body and purse. And, in the pursuit of knowledge and the satiation of his soul’s thirst, he is (mostly) faithful to his new loves – a treatise on the souls of animals, to whom he has always felt a natural affinity, and the beautiful and nourishing Swiss botanist, Louise de Flamanville, nee de Saint Maurice Neuchatel.
As always with Tremain, her new book is masterfully written. Not least, many unexpected and thrilling events take place, including an early version of ‘playing the Beast’ on the move (as Sir Robert succumbs to his desire while in a carriage across France), a duel in the garden of a Swiss chateau, and the rescue of a small spaniel from a rather large bear named Clarendon. Also, the exploration of feelings the reader would otherwise merely guess at are squarely planted on the page in startling clarity and pathos. Joining Merivel again has been a privilege, but then, reading the novels of Rose Tremain has always been exactly that. Her words are crisp, her notions are fresh, and the delicate touch she shows her characters is both poignant and cathartic. A triumph.