A Booker Prize contender, Restoration follows the journey of Robert Merivel, a medical student-cum-lord who is made useful to Charles II of England – first for his spaniel-saving qualities, and then for his buffoonery and willingness to provide extramarital cover.
The world of court is recreated extremely well.
The grasping for favour, the bonds of the pecking order – all is vibrantly constructed. The desire for position, preferment is palpable.
The characterisation is rich. Charles II is a dick, albeit one with a touch of heavenliness, while Merivel and his associates are vividly drawn. There’s a touch of Hogarth about the way the gourmand’s baser desires are indulged, always offset by his contemporary Pearce, all black rigidity and judgement.
Reading Restoration put me in mind of Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda: the relationship between Merivel and Pearce strongly reminded me of the arm’s-length love between Oscar and Theophilus Hopkins. The rigidity of faith held against excesses of the physical plane, embodied in a relationship.
Given its 17th Century setting, it’s fitting that this is something of an alchemical story: a tale of transformation from shit into gold in a crucible of loss, heated by the Great Fire. There’s more to it than this, obviously, but the trip taken from student to dilettante to man is engrossing and affecting. Excellent stuff.