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Restoration by Rose Tremain

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Restoration by Rose Tremain

Restoration by Rose Tremain

Restoration by Rose Tremain – somehow I have managed to miss out on this utter gem so far in my reading life and I can’t quite believe what I’ve been missing. This is one of the best historical novels I have ever read and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve seen others describe it as redefining the whole historical novel genre which I don’t think is an exaggeration. I imagine its impact in the 1980s, when it was first published, was even greater than for me reading it today; being pitched into a personality so thoroughly must have been so new and fresh. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, although very different books to this, use this technique as well and have some similarities – I wonder if Mantel was inspired by Tremain? I wouldn’t be surprised.

The book, for those who have not read it, is about a very ordinary man, Robert Merivel, who, thanks to his father and his talent for playing the fool, ends up living a very extraordinary life at the court of Charles II. Merivel is so stupid, flawed, loveable and wonderful I’m struggling to find an original, suitable adjective! At various different points of the novel I was cringing for him, crying for him, laughing with him and admiring him. Above all other things, he is a genuine person and one of the most life-like characters I have ever read about. He is unstintingly honest with himself (and therefore with the reader) and exposes himself, warts and all in a way which reminded me of Pepys’ diaries.

The main messages I took from the book were that finding your place in the world is important for your self-respect and that a person who trades their integrity for money and comfort is making a Faustian bargain! Thank you Rose Tremain for one of those rare books that really do transform your understanding of good writing. The sequel to Restoration, Merivel: A Man of His Time has just been published and so that is now firmly on my wish list!

Autumn reading!

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I’ve had a wonderful Paralympic week, culminating in a session at the Athletics last night. It was absolutely awe-inspiring – the achievements of these athletes come across even more poignantly in person than on television. I had to bite back a  lump in my throat several times. The noise and colour of the stadium was also overwhelming – my pictures can’t really tell one thousand words here but give just a flavour of the magic:

Paralympic Athletics 3rd September 2012

Paralympic Athletics 3rd September 2012

Olympic Stadium 3rd September 2012

Olympic Stadium 3rd September 2012

So I’ve been waving my Union Jack frantically over the last week rather than writing my blog. However, I settled down on Saturday with The Telegraph’s Review supplement (all reviews here) because there was a rather tempting special on the literary treats that Autumn has in store! So far, I’ve added Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, Zadie Smith’s NW, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Restoration and Merivel: A man of his time by Rose Tremain and Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford to my must-read list.

When I’ve not been at the Paralympics, I’ve been glued to Parade’s End on BBC2. I’ve never read or really noticed Ford Maddox Ford before, but I am enjoying this adaption so much. I also watched the documentary about Ford after the first episode. I would recommend it highly as it helped set the context of the novel for me. I really love the fact that Christopher, the hero, is such a man of principle. Honour is a quality often lacking in real life I think and I like reading about it. The documentary explained that in reality, Ford was a rather unscrupulous character and so he wrote Christopher as the man he rather wished to be. I think if I were ever to try to write something, I would also create a character who was everything I wished to be. It would be interesting to explore the consequences of that!