Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar


Source: I received a copy from the publisher for a fair & honest review.
Release Date: February 2011

Synopsis: 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.

Review: I first read about little Nell Gwyn from Diane Haeger’s A Perfect Royal Mistress, and loved it! So when asked to read another novel about Nell Gwyn and her love affair with King Charles II I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I was excited when I finally was able to squeeze it into my hectic reviewing schedule and the cover is just to die for! This book has been endorsed by many of my favorite HF authors such as Philippa Gregory, Sharon Kay Penman, and Sandra Gulland; which made me think this book was going to be spectacular!

Well my fellow bookaholics, I’m here to say although I did enjoy the book it did not fully live up to my expectations. I’ll start off with what I did like about the book. One thing I liked was how Parmar started the storyline before Nell was an orange girl and before both her sister and mother resorted to prostitution. I got a better understanding as to why her mother and sister chose to sell their bodies for money and how Nell became an orange girl. Also, Parmar focused more on Nell’s and Hart’s affair, which allowed the reader to see why Nell ran out on him and attached herself to Lord Buckhurst. She was looking for someone whom she could fall in love with instead of someone who spoiled her with lavish gifts in order to buy her affection. Sadly that didn’t work out so well in the end for little Nell. 

I really liked the character Teddy, who was Nell’s best friend and fellow actor. He was a flamboyant man who had a heart of gold. I think it would be safe to say he was gay and his wife, whom he never saw, was just a cover. On many occasions he would dress up in women’s clothing and was even Nell’s shopping buddy. I also loved Parmar’s take on Queen Catherine, the Portuguese Infanta. I couldn’t help but to sympathize with her disheartening situation. She was baron and King Charles’s long time, cruel mistress Lady Castlemaine was popping them out left and right, which was so unfair.

Now to what I didn’t like so much about the book. Every time I read or hear about Nell Gywn, it’s her brassy sense of humor that is most talked about besides her long time love affair with King Charles II. Unfortunately, I found it was lacking in this storyline and I missed it very much. Her harsh sense of humor is what makes her who she is and one of the reasons why she was so loved by the English people while on stage. Also, I felt Nell’s and King Charles’s first meeting was funny but totally not believable in my opinion. I won’t spoil it for everyone so just take my word for it.

Parmar definitely made this story unique by writing it in a diary format, and including home remedies, letters, and gossip columns into her book. I personally found it distracting and getting information through a letter or a gossip column is overall vague. That is just my personal opinion. I know some people really enjoy the diary format and would really like reading gossip columns, and letters because it would make you feel like your actually reading something during that century.

Overall, I thought Exit the Actress was an enjoyable read, but it was not spectacular. Priya Parmar is definitely an author to watch out for; however, I thought Haeger’s rendition on Nell Gwyn had a lot more depth and characterization than Parmar’s. I don’t usually compare books in my reviews, but since I went into this book thinking it was going to be as good if not better than Haeger’s A Perfect Royal Mistress, I had to do it. The whole time while reading Exit the Actress, I found myself comparing the two books.


  1. Sounds interesting. It also sounds a bit like The Crimson Petal and the White, in which the main character is a social climber to avoid staying as a prostitute.

  2. Sounds like something I would like. Great review. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I enjoyed this book but Nell was new to me (I didn't have anything to compare it to, I wonder if this played into your review). Diary format is one of my favorite reads, I find them a fun twist to my usual reading pattern.

    This is the great thing about books and reviews, we don't have to agree but we are reading and learning! If you haven't read The Crimson Petal and the White... read it! It's one of my favorite books (just be warned... it's crude descriptions are necessary but unlike anything I have read).

  4. @ Mari I definitely think that played into my review. I have heard great things about The Crimson Petal & the White but I haven't read it nor do I own it. Sounds like something I should look into! Thanks for the comment :)