The Booker shortlisted novel that “restored the historical novel to its rightful place of honor” (New York Times).
Robert Merivel, son of a glove maker and an aspiring physician, finds his fortunes transformed when he is given a position at the court of King Charles II. Merivel slips easily into a life of luxury and idleness, enthusiastically enjoying the women and wine of the vibrant Restoration age. But when he’s called on to serve the king in an unusual role, he transgresses the one law that he is forbidden to break and is brutally cast out from his newfound paradise. Thus begins Merivel’s journey to self-knowledge, which will take him down into the lowest depths of seventeenth-century society.
The double import of Tremain's title--it refers both to the reign of the 17th-century Restoration King Charles II and to the restoration to the protagonist of his beloved home and aspirations for his life--is one of the subtle delights of this accomplished novel, shortlisted for the Booker and winner of other awards in Britain. The story is of one man's rise and fall and rise again, of his discovery of love and faith, and his emotional maturation in a crucible of harrowing experiences. In a larger sense, however, it is a social, cultural and psychological picture of that age, when bluebloods lived in gaudy excess but others were expected to be content in their ``appointed stations.'' Through the whim of his adored monarch, narrator Robert Merivel becomes veterinarian to the Royal Dogs, unofficial Fool, and ``paid cuckold,'' when he marries the King's mistress, Celia Clemence, on condition that he himself will never fall in love with her. Having unwittingly succumbed to that forbidden emotion, Merivel is cast off by both wife and King, and must join his dour Quaker friend Pearce working in a lunatic asylum in remote, bleak Whittlesea. Another tragic loss sends him back to plague-ridden London, where his life comes full turn. Merivel embodies the contradictions of his era: though he is vain, frivolous and cynical, he is also a man of sensibility, intelligence and imaginative daring; his wry, witty voice holds the reader absorbed. A thoroughly satisfying read, the complex plot is augmented by acutely observed historical detail, nuanced character development, humor and poignancy.