The Restoration Reading Group – with very few reservations

I may have mentioned before that I am so idle and underemployed – hmm – that I go to two Reading/Bookgroups.  One of them has recently met to discuss Restoration by Rose Tremain. Over some wine and elderflower cordial, we discussed and debated this classic book, and I searched to my memory to recall bits about the film, which I last saw quite a few years ago – though I believe it is available with Czech subtitles on DVD if you have the technology to deal with it….

Back to the book. And typically we started at the end, by saying that we were not really sure what to make of it. A dream? A trance? A true restoration to favour by way of a growth and development in self awareness? Comments please! I could not find any references to the end in the reviews online… And we certainly couldn’t come to any agreement. (Maybe I should contact Tremain herself? Or is the ambiguity deliberate?)

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t read this excellent book, it is a substantial novel, but not overlong, about the progress of Robert Merivel who comes to the notice of Charles the Second, recently restored to the throne. Robert’s father introduces him to the King, who adopts Robert as Physician to the Royal dogs, and unofficial Fool. The King chooses Robert as a token husband to one of his Mistresses, Celia, and presents him with a house in Norfolk, which Robert comes to love. Robert’s descent into Royal disapproval, his Exile to a Quaker Asylum, his ignominious return to a plague beset London, all sound ominous, but there are many touching, amusing and downright funny descriptions to balance the novel.

This book brought out many issues. How does, for example, a woman author capture all the insecurities, emotions and details of a man’s life. Are there differences in how men and women write? If there are differences, have they diminished since Austen’s time, for example? Historically speaking, had the plague finished before the Great Fire, or did it end as a result? A contribution that Pepys was definitely in London made us think that several notables had indeed returned to London before the Fire, so we reasoned that the plague must have abated.

We also admired Tremain’s description of Robert’s relationship with Pearce, his long term friend who almost seemed to act as a conscience. We debated the treatment of madness, contrasting it with other treatments available at the time, as well as what motivates a man who has many female contacts, to put it delicately. There does seem to be a lack of a strong female character, but it does mean that Robert’s character is examined in incredible detail.

If the mark of a good book club book is that it promotes discussion, this classic book meets the expectation. I think some us resolved to read other Tremain books as soon as possible; I read Music and Silence a few years ago, and really enjoyed it, especially the ending. I was also touched to hear a recommendation to read this bookblog, combined with the urging to review this book. So here it is People!  If you read this book blog, please feel free to comment. I’ll try to reply…, and also pass the word about the blog address – the more the merrier…


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