Book Review – Exit the Actress

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Happy Valentine’s Day! To celebrate, here are two novels which celebrate love in various forms, though neither one would be considered romance novels. Enjoy your reading.

Exit the Actress is the debut novel of Priya Parmar, coming out as a trade paperback original this month. More and more, publishers are choosing to test new authors in this less expensive format rather than issue a hardcover that might not do as well, and I think it is a great idea. Finally, you can try a new author without breaking the bank.

It is a historical novel about Nell Gwynn and her rise from poor orange seller in a Restoration-era theater to actress in that same theater to mistress of Charles II. What makes it so clever is the way the author tells the story – portions are told in Nell’s voice, in diary entries detailing her daily life, how she managed to become an actress, and the historical events that touched her life. Some of it is told in snippets from the Social Notebook of the London Gazette, enlightening us about court gossip and the courtiers’ outrageous antics. Letters between the royal family (Charles to his sister and mother, theirs back to him) update us on goings on in the court of Louis XIV, and letters of Nell’s family and the theater management keep us apprised of her progress in singing, dancing and acting.

Official Notations from the Privy Council and excerpts from the Lady’s Household Companion bring us up to speed on the political and domestic spheres of Restoration England.  Philippa Gregory and Sandra Gulland are two historical novelists who blurbed this title, and I wholeheartedly agree with them—she has done a great job, and I am looking forward to her next book.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.

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