cover image Exit the Actress

Exit the Actress

Priya Parmar, Touchstone, $16 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-4391-7117-2

Part epistolary and part faux memoir, Parmar's debut brings a lesser-known bit of English history to life. Nell Gwyn's name has come down through history as an actress who became Charles II's mistress. Despite her humble beginnings, Nell rises quickly with a gift of mimicry, talent for dance, and a unique loveliness. Charles's charisma, meanwhile, is matched only by his reputation as a libertine, and once he realizes Nell wants him as a man and not a king, he falls for her, though their love must survive his scheming ex-mistresses, Nell's love of independence, and a tumultuous political backdrop. What separates this from other royal mistress tales is the real-feeling relationships between Gwyn, Charles, and Queen Catherine: Parmar resists the easy way out of polarizing the reader against either the cheating husband or the cuckolded wife, and Nell is a thoughtful protagonist and narrator. While the epistolary passages can feel contrived, this is a solid debut from a writer readers will want to see more from. (Feb.)