Ellen "Nell" Gwyn comes from humble beginnings. Her mother is a drunkard, her sister is a whore and her father is long dead. When Nell decides that she wants a life different from that of her sister she gets a job as an orange girl at the Theatre Royal, changing her life forever. Over the next several years Nell works hard for her place in this beautiful new world and fights for the one things she really wants. Love.
With Exit the Actress Priya Parmar has done for the Restoration what Phillipa Gregory did for the Tudors. She spins the story of Nell Gwyn, one of Charles II's mistresses in a unique way that had me completely captivated. Nell's diary entry's are personal, and are the main lens through which the reader views this story. She's funny and lighthearted, even when her circumstances should make her otherwise. Her decisiveness and individuality rockets her forward in her career as an actress, and eventually help her earn her place in the King's heart.
While Nell's diary makes up the bulk of Parmar's 446 pages, they are not the only means of storytelling. There are letters from Charles, to and from his sister in France, as well as to and from his mother, giving insight into the workings of the court Nell doesn't get to enter until later in the novel. These letters are more frequent at the beginning of the novel and have nothing to do with Nell. The one thing I would have liked to see more of were letters written after Charles meets her to see the change in his character. There are also newspaper headlines and gossip columns and recipes for home remedies to break up the narrative.
Overall I really enjoyed Exit the Actress. It's set in an interesting era, with an intriguing main character and enough real drama to fill a season of the Tudors. If you're a historical fiction fan you should definitely pick this one up.