Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Book - Restoration

Time for another book review, because you know I don't just watch movies; now and again I pick up a book. The last work we read for Book Club was chosen by Bex, and it was Restoration by Rose Tremain.

Restoration was published in 1989, and also made into a movie, but the film version was difficult to locate. Anyway, I'm not sure if this is a book for everyone, as evidently I was the only person in our book club who enjoyed it. Perhaps I liked it so much because the last book we read was so poorly written. This book kind of reignited my faith in modern or semi-modern literature (I guess anything younger than Dickens and Austen can be considered modern.)

The story follows the life of Robert Merivel, a medical student who by chance falls into favour with the King (Charles II) and becomes a kind of personal physician for the King's pooches. The King then arranges for Merivel to marry his favourite mistress, Celia Clemence, as the other mistresses are getting a little jealous. The plan is perfect: Mervivel, apart from being a jolly good keeper of dogs and fool to the king, is also a notorious womaniser and pretty darn good at it. Merivel is given Celia in marriage on one condition: he is not to fall in love with her.

However, despite Merivel's arrogant, selfish and vain character, somehow you end up loving him as he is confronted by his many weaknesses and the true nature of his own heart. Essentially, I found this book was in fact about idolatry: it reveals how different idols at different times can completely consume us, and what dangers this brings.

There was something that really gripped me in this story. The writing was like nothing I had ever read before. Often stories written in first person are unpleasant experiences, since the characters seem as two-dimensional as the black and white words with which they are written. However, Robert Merivel feels like a real historical person. Like Jane Eyre, you feel this character coming off the page. Another similarity between Restoration and Jane Eyre is they are both written in a kind of diary-autobiographical style. 
I also loved how Merivel muses about the course his life has taken in hindsight, contemplating what moments were pivotal in the road he has taken. Halfway through the book, he was pretty much like: "Okay, well you've caught up with me, we're in the present now, and I have as much idea as you do about where this story will end." Maybe that's what I really appreciated about the book: the way the fourth wall was continually broken down. Merivel is frank about the goings-on in his life - almost too frank; one big complaint about the book is that it can get a bit too descriptive about his sexual relations.
I'm also a sucker for anything set in a historical time period, as I feel like I can read a story and get some insight into the place and time where it is set.

So in conclusion, I highly recommend this book if historical novels are your thing. And even if they're not, this might be a good book to start with.

Here's a little snippet for you to get an idea of the writing style:

"She would, on the birthday of Christ, allow herself what she called "an extra helping of prayer." At the time of the Civil War, she would pray for peace. Always, she asked God to spare me and my father. But at Christmas, she talked to God as if He were Clerk of the Acts in the Office of Public Works. She prayed for cleaner air in London. She prayed that our chimneys would not fall over in the January winds; she prayed that our neighbour, Mister Simkins, would attend to his cesspit, so that it would cease its overflow into ours. She prayed that Amos Treefeller would not slip and drown "going down the public steps to the river at Blackfriars, which are much neglected and covered in slime, Lord." And she prayed, of course, that plague would not come.
As a child, she allowed me to ask God to grant me things for which my heart longed. I would reply that my heart longed for a pair of skates made of bone or for a kitten from Siam. And we would sit by the fire, the two of us, praying. And then we would eat a lardy cake, which my mother had baked herself, and ever since that time the taste of lardy cake has had about it the taste of prayer.” 

Until next time :)

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