Merivel is back. For readers who enjoyed Restoration and the subsequent Robert Downey Jr film, this will be cause for much joyful shaking of periwigs. Sometime physician to Charles II, Merivel is still a man of appetites and enthusiasms. Holed up in his Norfolk estate yet keen to avert a mid-life fit of melancholy, he seeks the king’s leave to travel to Versailles to work for Louis XIV. In France he falls for the ‘wit and seriousness’ of wealthy Louise de Flamanville, an amateur botanist married to a conveniently homosexual colonel in the Swiss Guards. Will Merivel be able to remain true to one woman for the rest of his life?
A book about and narrated by Merivel stands or falls largely on one’s sympathies towards the man. Although he has a nice line in self-deprecation, his self-indulgence is off-putting. His charming teenage daughter, Margaret, for example, is the result of an inappropriate relationship with an inmate at a lunatic asylum