Read: 2nd January 2012
Rating: 1 star out of 5 (*)
It's rare that I feel compelled to provide a review of this book, but I feel I must in this instance, both as a historian with an academic interest in the area and a voracious reader of historical fiction.
Upon reading the initial description of this novel online, I was hopeful with some reservations about the way in which it was compiled. The idea of a storyline from memoranda is, in theory, a very good one. However, in practice, this wasn't the case. There was no continuity between the various articles used and often enough, these sections ran contrary to the main storyline or had no relevance to it whatsoever. Thus they became very grating, very quickly. This wasn't helped by the inappropriate language that Parmar chose to use. The modern day vernacular doesn't work in a novel set in the 17th century. In particular, the letters between Charles II and his various relatives was much, much too familiar. These letters sounded as they were written: like 21st century notes that had been foisted into a novel set four hundred years previously. Naturally, this language issue was transcribed into the main diary storyline as well. All in all, it ruined any sense of authenticity regarding the setting. It ensured that there wasn't even a vague sense of accuracy about the setting. This makes me question just how well Parmar did her research. Although she's gotten a lot of her dates in the right place (some are clearly nothing more than speculation), this is about the only place in which it's obvious she did ANY research about the period. The fullness and jollity of the Restoration Era was conspicuously absent from the book. She quotes and includes the usual Dryden, Rochester and Behn - but it's painfully clear she's not read anything to do with their lives, but has rather ushered them in out of necessity to bulk the novel up. Bad form.
My other complaint lies in the fact that there was very little plotline. At all. It just seemed to rather predictably repeat the well-known life story of Nell Gwynn. Many other authors have done the same thing, but with much greater aplomb. The odd diary and memorandum format meant that the novel became almost entirely devoid of motion or dramatic progression. The story just kept coming and coming, but there was very little to further it on. It was almsot as if the author relied entirely upon just the fact the Nell was living to continue the book. When the ending eventually did arrive, it did so in an odd place. Like only half the story had been told, or that Parmar had gotten bored of writing and didn't wish to follow the story out until Nell's death. Thus, the reader leaves her just before the birth of her first child. There is SO much more life to Nell after this point. We lose a lot of Nell's possible personality with Parmar's writing style. Others like Diane Haeger, Susan Holloway Scott and Gillian Bagwell seem to strive to capture the witty personality that history records Nell as possessing. There's nothing of the sort here, and again, I think that is because of the odd choice in narrative format.
It has taken me a very long time to get through this novel - over two months in fact - when I can usually get through a 400 odd page HistFic novel in a couple of days or less. I had to force myself to keep reading, despite the overall dullness, because I love this period so very much. I will not be revisiting this book, or any other that may be accredited to Ms Parmar in future. Although she clearly can write at reasonably high level, I don't think she's suited to fiction.
(Cross Posted from my Goodreads account)