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. (Apr.)
There is a heartstopping passage in Restoration, at our hero and narrator Robert Merivel's wedding feast. He describes how, as his father-in-law plays an air of intense melancholy on his viola da gamba, he is overcome with an unhappiness so profound he has to run outside and weep. This epiphany is described to the strains of that very piece, John Dowland's Flow my Tears, one of the most powerful uses of music I have ever heard on an audio production. The period is the 1660s, and we follow the rise, fall and redemption of the troubled physician Merivel, made palpably likeable by Degas's performance. He becomes a favourite of Charles II, gains and loses wealth, works at the new BedlamA" in the Fens and returns to London for the plague and the great fire, finally buttressing his sadness with a sense that he can be usefulA". - Karen Robinson, Sunday Times
Restoration is all that its title implies: a tale of the restoration of gaiety, self-indulgence, and worldiness after the austerity of the Puritan regime; the restoration of energy and life to London after the plague and the Great Fire; and the restoration of purpose and meaning to the life of Robert Merivel after King Charles II withdraws the patronage which had plunged it into enervating luxury. It is a beautifully crafted work in which almost every event and character, as well as the narrator's relationship with the reader, richly illuminate Merivel's life and temperament. Exquisite balance and symmetry as well as passages of lyrical description are certain to please discriminating readers. British author Tremain has written Letter to Sister Benedicta (LJ 9/1/79) and The Colonel's Daughter and Other Stories (LJ 5/15/84), among other works.-- Cynthia Johnson Whealler, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass.