April Book Club

Restoration by Rose Tremain – the book and the film!

 ‘Restoration’ by Rose Tremain is both a stupendously brilliant novel and a highly entertaining film. First published in 1989, I recall reading it when it came out and being astonished. Here was a new kind of historical fiction. Ms Tremain wrote from the viewpoint of a male character of centuries ago and, my goodness, how she inhabited him! This is no gentle, pretty story of frocks and manners and elegant drawing rooms. In this bawdy, raucous, vibrant book we find all the grit, the filth, the danger and the drama of restoration England, and I absolutely loved it.

Hugh Grant puts in a terrific cameo

This was the book that not only made me want to write, but made me want to write historical fiction. Most of all it made me want to transport readers to another time and place in exactly the way I had been. It truly was a revelation, and I have been an ardent fan of Rose Tremain ever since. She has a rare talent that is as adept at historical novels as contemporary ones, too, so I urge you to try several of her books. In no particular order, you might look at ‘Trespass‘, ‘The Colour’, ‘The Road Home’ and of course the wonderful sequel to ‘Restoration’, ‘Merivel’.

Robert Downey Jr as Merivel


Like everyone who loves a particular book, I was nervous when the film came out. I need not have been. Rupert Walter’s screenplay sticks just faithfully enough to the original story to feel authentic, and makes the most of all the wonderful visual aspects of the book, bringing them to life with great gusto and imagination. My only small gripes were that some of the women’s make up was more 20th century than 17th, and the lead actor was rather too good looking to be the Merivel of the book. But I’m a long standing fan of Robert Downey Jnr, so I forgave him. Sam Neill made an unlikely but convincing Kind Charles II. It must have been a fun part to play. Hugh grant puts in a hilarious performance as the character you love to hate, and David Thewlis is, of course, brilliant. It was directed by Michael Hoffman.

I would love to hear how you thought the book compared to the film. Or indeed, what you made of the character of Merivel and Rose Tremain’s writing!

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rochelle Hickey
Rochelle Hickey
3 months ago

I, sadly, had a hard time finishing this book. Maybe I should watch the movie? I felt like it was groups of events that didn’t really flow into each other but rather the character was thrown into it but then all the events made sense as a whole at the end. I usually do enjoy a drawn out historical fiction but I kept feeling like I was missing something. I did enjoy Merivel and felt for him as he constantly tried to distance himself from being a physician but kept being thrown back into it. He was always trying to be something he wasn’t.

Paula
Paula
Reply to  Rochelle Hickey
3 months ago

I agree it’s not the fastest read. Interesting that you found it fragmented. Perhaps the film would be a better way for you to enjoy following the character. I’m actually going to extend the time on this one because many people are finding a book per month a bit of a struggle. I’ll post about it again, but I think we’ll revisit for a discussion at the end of May. Thanks for putting up your thoughts!

Judy
Judy
3 months ago

Hi Paula and fellow book club readers,

I first read this book back in 2015. I did enjoy the tale of Robert Merivel but it’s not a fast read by any means. As a character, I found him a bit weak and not always making the best of choices but still not a bad fellow. “A dazzling romp” is a good description for this story. I am a fan of 17th Century fiction which is why I first read it back in the day. I also watched the movie 😉

Paula
Paula
Reply to  Judy
3 months ago

Hi Judy. I agree, he is a flawed human being. I think that’s what was so surprising for me when I first read it. Merivel is definitely not the usual sort of hero to be found in a historical novel! I think the film did a good job of the setting (make-up aside!). I’m going to run this book as the Book Club read for May too, to give people a little longer to tackle it.

Paula
Paula
3 months ago

As this is quite a long book and everyone has so much on their plates, I’m going to let this book and film run on for another month. We’ll revisit it in a few weeks to give people more chance to read or watch x

Christy Nather
Christy Nather
Reply to  Paula
3 months ago

Thank You! I have been busier lately and it is taking me longer on this one.

Ann Lozier
Ann Lozier
3 months ago

I finished the book – not really sure what to think. It was not a book that I couldn’t wait until I was done with work so I could read more. But, it was not difficult and I found myself wanting to find out more about Merivel and what happens to him. And, I find myself still thinking about the book, about Merivel and the times. And, that IS a sign of a good book when it stays with the reader.

Merivel is a character caught up in the debauchery of his times, focused on his own pleasure. But, he also cared for his friends, and servants. He wanted to help them. Despite the terrible things he did, he was a likeable character. I wanted to hate him, but couldn’t. Who among us has not done things of which we are ashamed? I found myself sighing and shaking my head at his foibles, much as I would with a friend who is about to do something stupid. While he did wrong things, he never did them out of meanness. He didn’t want to hurt. He was just focused on himself and his own pleasure.

The history was great, the book really pulled me into the times. Highlighting the differences between the upper lower classes. One thing that bothered me was the ages of the characters. The average life expectancy in those times was early 40s. So, Merivel in his late 30s was an old man.

Overall, I liked the book. I may even read the sequel although not right away. 🙂

Paula
Paula
Reply to  Ann Lozier
3 months ago

A really interesting response to the book, Ann. I absolutely agree that the flaws in Merivel’s character are many and they are what make him so relatable. Not that I’m saying we are all like him, but we are all imperfect and understand what drives him. Also, he does have a good heart and a conscience, and these things are what ultimately save him, I think.
Thirty was definitely considered middle aged back then, but the average life expectancy can give the wrong impression. Lots of people lived to their seventies; it was the high infant mortality rate that lowered the average age.

Karina
Karina
2 months ago

I have finally finished reading this book! I appreciated all the detail and historical context, which did make the book, for me, fairly easy to read. However, I did not like any of the characters, which meant that unfortunately I did not enjoy reading this book. I am still glad though that I continued reading to the end, as I have now read a book out of my comfort zone. I found it really interesting to read a book recommended by an author I love, especially as I found it so different from your own books.