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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Sex, Low Comedy and Disarming Honesty

Merivel: A Man of His Time - Rose Tremain, Seán Barrett

Rose Tremaine's 1989 novel, Restoration, was such a feast for the reader, so funny, so well-researched, so humane and so moving, that I doubted whether she could possibly succeed with a sequel, especially more than twenty years later. In fact, she pulls it off wonderfully.

Though still liberally peppered with sex and low comedy, this is a more sombre tale. Merivel, King Charles and the other characters who careered through the pages of the first book, are fifteen years older. Old age and sickness are beginning to take their toll. The whole mood of the country has changed and disillusion with the monarch has set in.

Merivel now bears the responsibility for the welfare of his teenage daughter, Margaret. Despite this, he is still a man inclined to pleasure, flawed but likeable, weak but disarmingly honest. It is this weakness that is the wellspring of the plot. When his daughter is given a place at court and Merivel finds himself alone in his big house, he decides to to set off for Versailles in search of a purpose and a position with Louis XIV. Instead he becomes enamoured of a captive bear and involved with the wife of a member of the Swiss Guard.

What makes Tremaine a really first-class writer is the depth of her characterisation and the honesty of her writing. She is not afraid to tackle any subject. She goes wherever human beings go. There is a remarkable scene in a stagecoach in which a woman exposes herself to a group of male passengers that is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious. I can't imagine anyone else writing it with such ease and such obvious relish.

I enjoyed this book enormously. It made me feel glad to be alive.