Set in the time of the English Restoration, Robert Merivel is a physician in his 30s who has never really settled down. He dresses flamboyantly and spends most of his time drinking and seducing women. He endears himself to King Charles by caring for one of his sick spaniels, and joins his Court as physician to the royal dogs. The King then decides Merivel can be most useful to him by marrying his mistress, Celia, but this is to be a marriage on paper only. Merivel gets himself in trouble by actually falling in love with Celia, and when he is betrayed by a spy, the King sends him away. He goes to visit John Pearce, a friend from his student days at Cambridge who runs Whittlesea, a Quaker home for the mentally ill. As Merivel becomes part of this community of Friends, he begins his own period of "restoration," becoming a more complete person able to put the needs of others above his own. However, Merivel is never far from his bad-boy past and he struggles with these demons throughout the novel.
While the plot dragged a bit at times and I often wished Merivel would just get his act together, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Rose Tremain brings 1660s England to life with her portrayals of Court life, country life, the plague, and London's Great Fire of 1666. I'm looking forward to reading more of Tremain's work. ( )