Merivel: A Man of His TimeMerivel: A Man of His Time
Author: Rose Tremain
Narrator: Sean Barrett
Published 2013 by AudioGO
12.5 hours – Unabridged

For readers and listeners who enjoyed the picaresque 17th-century adventures of Robert Merivel set down in Rose Tremain’s excellent novel Restoration (short-listed for the Booker Prize upon its publication in 1989), her latest novel Merivel: A Man of His Time delivers a welcome reunion with a dear old friend. Those unacquainted with Sir Robert might wish to read Restoration first, so as not to miss any details about this extraordinary character. (Restoration has been reissued in print by W.W. Norton, and Blackstone Audio has produced a new audio edition.)

As Merivel opens, about 15 years have passed since the close of Restoration. The year is 1683, and Merivel’s beloved Bidnold Manor is his once more, and his daughter Margaret has grown to a lovely and level-headed seventeen. Having given consent for Margaret to travel to Cornwall for the winter with friends, Merivel finds himself at a loss for what to do with himself, now his daughter is grown. He has spent the last decade and a half living a relatively quiet life on his Norfolk estate, raising Margaret and working as a country doctor. Now in his late 50s and given to a certain chronic melancholy, he faces what we might call a midlife crisis, and decides a change of scenery is called for. He has heard wonderful stories about Louis XIV’s court at Versailles, and petitions his friend and his liege, King Charles II, for an entree to the French court as a physician.

Having secured his royal letter of introduction, Merivel crosses the Channel and travels to Versailles, where the scene is both more chaotic and more coldhearted than he expected. Bedded down on the floor of a shared garret and living on scraps, Merivel waits for a chance to gain an audience with the French king, and considers cutting his losses, admitting failure and returning to England. With the serendipity that has ever marked the course of Merivel’s life, a chance meeting with an aristocratic Swiss woman leads him to love (with her), to peril (from her husband) and to a captive bear which he impulsively purchases and takes home with him to Bidnold. Merivel expects to be reunited with his new amour Louise a few months hence, as she has invited him to visit her at her father’s estate in Switzerland when summer comes.

His plans fall apart when he arrives at Bidnold Manor, however. All of Merivel’s attention is consumed for the next few months of winter and spring, first by the grave illness of his daughter Margaret, then by a protracted visit from King Charles and the reappearance of Merivel’s sometime lover Violet Bathurst, who now requires his medical expertise. Even the bear does its part to distract Merivel, and he almost misses his chance to meet up with the beautiful, intelligent and ardent Louise back on the Continent. When the time comes to make the journey, though, Merivel rises to the occasion and encounters yet another series of the sort of adventures the reader has come to expect and relish. This is historical fiction as it should be, with plenty of laughing and crying, and characters that leap to life and follow you around while you’re not reading (or listening).

Sean Barrett performs Merivel without a single false step, flawlessly evoking Robert Merivel’s personal voice as well as breathing life into every character he interacts with, from the steadfast and humble manservant Will Gates to French and flighty Fubbsie, mistress of King Charles –- and everyone in between. Barrett’s skill and artistry put the finishing touches on a great novel, brilliantly written, to deliver a listening experience that is pure delight from start to finish.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.