Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar

Exit the Actress: A NovelExit the Actress by Priya Parmar
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.

My Thoughts:
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!

4 Stars!


  1. Thanks for the giveaway! I like books told through letters or journals because they capture the character(s)' voices more than third person. Especially with historical fiction, it makes readers feel more like they're in the book and the time period.

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  2. Thanks for this giveaway. I have seen this book on Mari's blog and I'd love to win it.

    I do like books with letters and journal entries. I think it's an interesting way to describe a story, because it's from one person's viewpoint and that isn't always the truth of what happened really. So that can have the reader guess what is really going on.

    jh303015 at gmail - do enter my giveaway too! I'm #19 on the BEA giveaway list - Leeswammes.

  3. I like it. I think it's a neat way to enrich a straight dialogue.

    TweetyB99 at aol dot com

  4. I have been wanting to read this since I heard of it. I love books that use letters to tell the story. It adds another layer to the story.


  5. the epistolary form can be a great way to inhabit a very personal space, to feel like you are hearing secrets that you shouldn't be hearing. when executed well, it becomes more than just a literary utility and gives us the most intimate look at the characters and their emotions.

    thelittlereader (at) gmail (dot) com

  6. Kristie: I'm having trouble today with google blogger (What a pain!) so this comment may not go through. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I may have to post as 'anonymous' - so I'm letting you know in advance. If it goes through as anonymous it's really from Yvette over at 'in so many words...'

    I would love to win a copy of EXIT THE ACTRESS. I am very fond of epistolary books (books written in letter form) and/or books written as journals. I've read quite a few and the more I read them the more I like the inventive immediacy of it. It is not an easy way to write a book - that much I've gathered from reading the 'how to's' of it. For me, the reader, it's as if I'm digging through someone else's life and coming up with their letters to explain what happened in that life. It's such a personal way to tell a story.

    A few books told in this way that I've loved:
    DADDY LONG LEGS by Jean Webster.
    84 CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff

    A book told partially in journal, letter and third person form that was especially good:
    A BOOK OF AIR AND SHADOWS by Michael Gruber. About the hunt for a long lost Shakespeare manuscript.

    Great giveaway. It's too bad google blogger is messing with my enjoyment of this BEA week.

  7. I love books that use letters or journals, but I hadn't really thought about the specific reasons why. I think because it seems more authentic in a way (and a bit voyeuristic).

    akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

  8. I like it when they use journal entries or letters because it makes you feel as if your in their position, being in their shoes persay. It also helps to hear their own words and feelings. I get easily attached to the character and it helps build a reader story teller relationship. =)

    Thank you for hosting this giveaway and for participating in ArmchairBEA!! Nice to meet you!!

    SpadesHigh @ http://SpadesHighReads.blogspot.com
    TValeros18 @ gmail [dot] com

  9. I like books that use journal entries or letters. It gives you a different perspective and insight into the characters

    Thanks for the giveaway
    tanyainjville at yahoo dot com

  10. I like books that use letters or diary entries to tell their story. It feels more intimate. Thanks for the giveaway.


  11. I love it when books use diary entries to tell the story because I'm a fan of unreliable narrators and having to keep in mind that this is not only a construct of the author, but one mediated through the voice of the character. Yup, I'm weird. :)

  12. I like that you get to know the protagonist thoughts, but sometimes can be boring to have only one point of view.

    Thank you for making this contest international! :D

    Giada M.

    fabgiada (at) gmail (dot) com

  13. I think journal entries can be really personal but I dislike it when they are printed in handwriting format. It can be really hard to read!


  14. I dislike when the do both the letters and journal entries to tell the story because I can't really imagine if you will the people or places in the story.


  15. This book looks really good -- thanks for hosting the giveaway! I think it's really hard to do journals and letters well, but if they're done well, I think they can be wonderful ways to tell a story. I just read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, which is the main character's journal, and I thought it was wonderful!

    erinreadsblog {at} gmail {dot} com

  16. I like stories being told in letters and journal entries because they give me a glimpse of a character's inner thoughts.

    aikychien at yahoo dot com