Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar
Paraphrased from Goodreads
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 first read this book in early high school and just recently re-read it. I remember loving it, and I still love it. I really like Ellen as a narrator, and I like the diary format. I think it works really well for this type of book. I love the voice in this book and how Ellen’s narration changes as she changes.
I really love all the side characters and Ellen’s theatre friends. I love Teddy and Ellen together and their dynamic. I love the Wits and their antics, and I love reading the scenes of them at the theatre or at court together. I really like how a bunch of the guys take Ellen as their adopted daughter or sister and make her feel a part of a family. She even refers to them as her theatre family.
I also love books that are just the characters going about their day-to-day lives, which this book very much is. I know some people hate that and think it’s slow, but I love it. And this book does it very well (again, probably through the diary format). If you like books that are lighter on plot, but heavy on characters then you’d probably enjoy this one. It’s also very well-researched (I think Parmar has a degree in history or something?) and all of the major events and characters are true, which is pretty cool. I felt like I was learning something but not in a boring way.
The only thing I don’t like about this book is the addition of the non-diary bits, like the court recordings or the recipes or letters. I felt like they disrupted the flow of the reading. I did like the newspaper gossip sections, and I felt like they added something, but I didn’t like the others.
Overall I really enjoy this book and highly recommend it. I think it’s a good introduction to historical fiction too.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’ve read this book and your thoughts!