Paperback, 464 pages
Touchstone, (February 1, 2011)
I received a copy of this book in exchange for my participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club.
Summary from the publisher's website:
While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater's proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England.
Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn't enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance.
Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen's diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.
I have been looking forward to reading Exit the Actress for months. My friend Mari from Bookworm with a View introduced me to author Priya Parmar's blog. I followed along with Parmar's experiences with publishing, cover design, photo sessions and the big publication day - it was so much fun to see an author's excitement about giving birth to her first novel, and seeing her be showered with praise over the book!
When the book was announced as the May selection for the Manic Mommies Book Club, I was thrilled. I resisted the urge to pick up a copy when I saw it on the shelf at Target and waited patiently for it to arrive on my doorstop in late April.
Exit the Actress is the first book in a long time where I have sacrificed much-needed sleep in order to read. Historical fiction is my favorite genre. When you combine that genre with an epistolary writing style, as Exit the Actress does primarily through journal entries and letters, it makes me swoon. This format offers a unique insight into the writer's emotions and personality. There is also an familiarity that I enjoy - possibly a slight voyeuristic look into the character's head.
I now understand why Parmar often wrote about being able to introduce Nell to new readers. After reading the book and learning about Nell's character through her diary, I do feel like I was introduced to a living, breathing person. It was quite extraordinary. Nell was an amazing woman and I would have loved to have been her friend.
This novel also allowed me to learn a great deal about 17th century England. The letters between King Charles and his mother and sisters provided clarity on the setting and time period. In the history books, royalty and historical events are often overly sanitized. Exit the Actress successfully showed the humans behind the events.
I would recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, those who like a good love story, or enjoy seeing a strong woman persevere. Exit the Actress was well worth the wait - Congratulations to Priya Parmar on her first novel. I am looking forward to what comes next!