Wednesday 30 May 2012

Devouring Books: Restoration by Rose Tremain

"It is a fact about Merivel- and about many in this age- that they do not always wish to know the truth about a thing. And when the truth is at last revealed to them, they cannot entirely dismantle all fiction from it."

I'm about to make a seriously nerdy confession, so if you still harboured any illusions about me being cool in some way, then you'd best look away now (I know you didn't, so I won't worry). But, here it is: When I was doing my A level in English Lit, for the final paper we got a section of a text to analyse and look over a week before the exam, and then wrote an essay or something about it in the actual exam. The year I did my A levels, the extract was the first 4 or 5 pages of Restoration, and so I bought Restoration. After the exam, so it wasn't to help me at all, it was just to see how it turned out after I'd read the damn extract about 50 times.

And then I left it for like 5 years. I'm honestly an unbelievable idiot. But, as it has been 4 times already this year, the TBR challenge has been my saviour, and finally, finally Restoration's time has come. Came. Has been and gone. Whatever. I'd kind of managed to forcibly forget that it's a piece of historical fiction, but that's definitely a good thing because I probably would have continued to put it off if I hadn't. As it was, I was actually pleasantly surprised by liking Restoration, historical fiction and all! Wonders never cease...

I think a really really big part of my actually liking Restoration was the fact that it was set (obviously) in Restoration-y times, aka Charles II's reign, aka a time of excess and immodesty and other awesome things like that. I'm not going to lie, there were many times during the novel that I was thinking about The Libertine, because, well, Johnny Depp being naughty and debauched? When is there not a good time to think about that? So, inevitably that helped give me happy feelings towards this book, but it's a time that generally interests me because, until really recently, I'd kind of thought that the way the Victorians were (all buttoned up and boring and AWFUL) was the way of all history in Britain, at least from 1066, but NO! There were definitely times of debauchment and general sex-with-anything, and for some reason that pleases me (even though this sexual freedom was mainly for men, and oh those poor wives left at home while their husbands frolicked at court! Oh!)

Anyway. The first part of Restoration is basically in this spirit of sexual freedom and good times, as Merivel, our first-person protagonist (yeah, it's historical fiction and has a first person narrator, and I still liked it! Suck on that, me!) is Charles II's personal bitch, and agrees to marry (one of) Charles's lovers so that another of his lovers doesn't get jealous. So far, so 1660s, and, of course, although Merivel isn't allowed to have carnal relations with his own wife, he gets his in numerous other places. It's all fairly typical of the age, BUT it's balanced slightly by Merivel's friend Pearce, who turns up every so often voicing his disapproval of the age in general and Merivel specifically, and I think it's Pearce who spurs the novel on to be something more than a mere tale of debauchery and excess.

Because Part 2 is where it all happens. And by all happens, I either mean 'all the fun stuff stops', or 'Merivel learns how to be a proper human being, at least according to Quaker/Victorian principles'. Obviously I can't tell you how it all goes down (well, I could, but don't be lazy, read the damn book!) but it's probably clear that Pearce has something to do with it, and it should also be clear that, after the first section, I was kind of over the book. Temperance? Moderation? No sex?! I should have been bored, but actually, I'm a fan of people looking at the tragic emptiness of their lives and wanting to do something about it. Call it an American Beauty complex (although, trying to have sex with a friend of your daughter's? Probably not the way to go).

So. I dislike historical fiction, first person narration and I don't even like Merivel that much, and yet, Restoration, I still like you. Call it an anomaly or whatever you like (I'd call it something else because I can't even say anomaly, so, yeah) but it's still a really good read and, interestingly, I definitely cared about what happened to this character that I didn't even like. I can't explain it, and yet it is true. And there you have it.


  1. It is a pleasure to find a wonderful read in a genre that is so far out our normal reading. It is a reminder to me to pick up something out of my typical genre more often.
    This does sound like a very interesting book. Thank you for calling it to my attention.

    1. You're very welcome! It's true that reading outside of our favourite genres can sometimes reap unexpected rewards, but I've read quite a few historical fiction novels recently (hence how I've kind of decided that I don't like them!) and this one really surprised me!

  2. I assumed things were repressed/Victorian-y from just after Shakespeare's time onward and it probably would have been 1066 onward if not for reading so much Shakespeare stuff.

    Hooray for TBR challenge getting you to read a book you've really been meaning to get to for the last 1/2 decade.

    1. Yeah, that's true about Shakespeare too! It's like... I just know nothing about the sexual history of my country! Although now it's kind of like... Shakespeare-times=sexy, then the puritans=not sexy, then Restoration times=very very sexy, then Victorians=not sexy, and then kind of now=sex ALL the time. Iiiiinteresting...

      TBR challenge FTW! And DAMN girl, don't say half a decade like that! I mean... I know it's true, but still, don't say it!