Jennifer Simmonds's Reviews > The Darling Strumpet

The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell
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's review
Apr 28, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read from April 26 to 28, 2012

To be honest I wasn't expecting much from this, I only chose to try it as I've never read about Nell Gwynn and didn't know much about her. There are so many second-rate historical fiction authors out there, who churn out saccharine, boring bonkbusters without an ounce of research. Thankfully I was proved completely wrong with this book.
What you get is a very well-researched, readable novel, written with care and accuracy. Bagwell has managed to pull off something clever and unusual in that her dialogue is true to the period and yet is never cloying or irritating. Also she has to be commended as a lot of American authors who set their stories in historical Britain make laughable attempts at recreating the speech of the time, or just don't bother. There was ONE (just the one) 'fall' instead of 'autumn' and ONE 'ass' instead of 'arse' but apart from that the writing was true to the period and believable.
It's hard to believe this is Bagwell's first novel actually - her descriptions, particularly of 17th century London are crystal clear and really transport you into that time. She's not taken too many liberties with the realities of Nell's story - although I found the first few chapters of the book where Nell, aged ten, becomes a prostitute a little hard to stomach. But such things happened, and it is to Bagwell's credit that she isn't afraid to deal with this part of Nell's life.
The reason for four stars and not five is because the middle part dragged a little for me. I loved the parts at the theatre when Nell made it from orange seller to popular actress, but got a little bored (and confused) when all these dukes and earls turned up and took turns to sleep with her.
The last third of the book is relentlessly depressing - ultimately her story is not a happy one - but by then I'd become so emotionally involved with Nell that I just had to keep reading.
This book has made me want to find out more about her, and am now looking for a decent biography so I can separate the facts from fiction - Bagwell admits that where the facts ran out she had to use her imagination to suit the story. But overall a moving, impressive read.

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