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The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell

Posted: Thu May 5th, 2011, 3:49 am
by Miss Moppet
The Darling Strumpet opens in May 1660. As the restored King Charles II makes his official entry into London, the young Nell Gwynn is taking the first steps in a career which will take her from oyster seller, to prostitute, orange girl, actress, courtesan and finally to royal mistress. At this stage in her life, sex is a means to an end for Nell, but Gillian Bagwell conveys her sensual nature by describing her pleasure in eating a hot pie she buys after selling her virginity for sixpence.

Nell’s life as an actress and Restoration playgirl will be familiar territory to anyone who has read Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber, but whereas Winsor was interested in the rivalry between the actresses, Gillian Bagwell focuses on the camaraderie of the theatre, which becomes a true home and a second family for Nell. Nell’s roles also allow her to create a public image and to win popularity.

Forever Amber, for all its racy reputation, never ventures beyond the bedroom door – I remember being particularly frustrated when Amber breezes in after her first night with the king – to which the reader is not made privy! By contrast, The Darling Strumpet is refreshingly frank, and while the sex scenes are not just vanilla (there’s definitely some chocolate and raspberry ripple in there too) they are both well written and true to the time and the historical record. The Restoration, at least for the court, was a period of hedonism and sexual freedom comparable to the Swinging Sixties three hundred years later – and Nell makes the most of it. She is a born survivor who has to learn to trust her head over her heart, yet she never loses her compassion for those still mired in the poverty into which she was born.

The atmosphere of Restoration London is beautifully rendered in this richly textured novel. Sedan chairs, frost fairs, hot wassail, changeable silks – the details on every page evoke time and place, while the dialogue strikes the right note between authenticity and accessibility. The Earl of Rochester in particular has some wonderful lines, as does King Charles, whose relationship with Nell is realistically drawn. The Darling Strumpet packs the events of twenty-five years into fewer than four hundred pages, and while I found it enjoyable and very readable, the relatively limited page space and the breaking up of the narrative into short scenes meant that it sometimes seemed a little breathless. I find it easier to engage emotionally with longer scenes and one in particular, Charles’s last meeting with Nell, has stuck in my mind as particularly moving.

A rich and spicy winter read.

Posted: Thu May 5th, 2011, 5:17 am
by annis
A rich and spicy winter read.
Darling Strumpet sounds tempting - mulled wine, maybe? I'll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the review and lovely to see you back :)

Posted: Thu May 5th, 2011, 3:24 pm
by fljustice
Thanks for the review, Miss Moppet!

Posted: Thu May 5th, 2011, 6:50 pm
by Miss Moppet
Annis and Faith, you are very welcome. I can definitely recommend this one, although with the caveat that the sex scenes are fairly raunchy so the book won't be for everyone.

Posted: Thu May 5th, 2011, 7:16 pm
by Misfit
[quote=""Miss Moppet""]Annis and Faith, you are very welcome. I can definitely recommend this one, although with the caveat that the sex scenes are fairly raunchy so the book won't be for everyone.[/quote]

I did start this one, and can't recall why but I just wasn't in the mood for it and promptly returned it to the library. I think the sex with her being a prostitute came out too fast and furious for me. Might try another day

PS, good to see you back as well. You were missed.