Tremain (Trespass, 2010, etc.) pens a follow-up to her novel Restoration, first published in 1989, about a 17th-century English physician with a self-deprecating wit.
It’s November, 1683, a mere 15 years after Robert Merivel’s return to his estate in Bidnold, and manservant Will Gates, now 74 to his master’s 57, is still alive, and though not exactly kicking, he’s tottering around and comically caring for his employer. Suffering from crying jags and melancholy, the troubled doctor is in somewhat of a rut. His daughter Margaret is becoming more independent with each day, and he’s wallowing in self-pity and loneliness. Merivel’s youth is now behind him, and though he’s had a colorful existence to date, he fears that his life has served no lasting purpose. Recognizing her father’s depression, Margaret urges him to put some spice back in his life while she vacations in Cornwall with their neighbors, and Merivel decides to make good on her suggestion. As he travels among France, Switzerland, London and Bidnold, Merivel does, indeed, find adventure, excitement and moments of unadulterated happiness. But he also experiences times of personal loss and extreme sadness. Merivel recounts these years in touching and bawdy detail: his involvement with Madame Louise de Flamanville, a woman whose interests and sexual appetite equal his own; his friendship with a humble clockmaker with whom he shares quarters while both attempt to gain access to King Louis XIV in Versailles; his empathy toward a caged bear he tries to rescue. Tremain’s genius lies in her ability to portray Merivel in multifaceted ways that make him human and ultimately likable. He’s at times a self-indulgent, impulsive scamp who commits outrageous acts, but he also exhibits an admirable side.
Tremain’s sequel can be read as a stand-alone, but readers may struggle to understand many of the events the main character alludes to in the narrative.