Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: February 1, 2011
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "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."
Readers will follow Ellen "Nell" Gwyn through her extraordinary life from the moment she starts off by selling clams on the street, then moves up to selling oranges at the theater and then to the moment the theater sees something special in her and starts training her for the stage. It's a good thing she has carved out her own path as her mother is unreliable and an alcoholic and her sister, much to Ellen's disapproval, starts to sell herself on the streets in order to get by. Ellen becomes more and more successful on the stage where she makes important friendships, encounters heartbreak and the excitement of first love. Later on, she even finds herself in a relationship with King Charles II, which will prove to be her most exhilarating and life changing "role" yet. Fans of historical fiction will absolutely love Exit the Actress by debut author Priya Parmar. By the novel's end, readers will find that Ellen has not only captured the heart of a king, but their hearts as well.
Philippa Gregory, one of my favorite adult authors, said that Parmar is a writer to watch and, boy, was she not kidding! Parmar brings Ellen to life through her journal entries, which is a format that I love, because I feel like you really get to know a character. Also, Parmar makes readers feel as if they, too, are living in 17th century England and I loved how she included snippets of gossip columns, home remedies, letters, and other artifacts that make it feel authentic. Needless to say, I was happily lost in Ellen's world.
Ellen Gwyn is a superb protagonist-- a truly likable girl before her time. How could I not root for her after all that she has been through? Being the history nerd that I am and someone that is on a quest for random knowledge, I was happy that Parmar included information at the end of the novel about the real Ellen. I knew nothing about her going into this and was so very interested to learn more about her. I love how historical fiction does this and inspires readers to learn more about a particular time or person in history. That, to me, is the mark of an outstanding historical novel.
The minor characters are just as enthralling and likable. There is one character, Teddy, that really stood out for me. He was very memorable, well developed and my favorite after Ellen, of course. Parmar has this incredible ability in which she develops a character that I instantly love and continue to admire throughout the entire novel, which is not an easy feat.
Priya Parmar is one of my new favorite authors; in fact, I will gladly read any novel that she writes in the future, because she is an author whose writing style I clicked with and as we readers know..... sometimes that connection is hard to find! I'm so pleased to read that she is currently working on her next historical fiction which will focus on World War I. Priya Parmar is, hands down, my new favorite author of historical fiction.
*Buy Exit the Actress
*Check out Priya Parmar's blog
*Thank you to Touchstone for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.