Only another historical fiction writer could appreciate the amount of research that has gone into Gillian Bagwell's novel "The Darling Strumpet". And as I have researched a book in the same period I hope I could have spotted holes in the historical background had there been any - but the detail was impeccable, no holes here!
The way the historical fact blended with the characterisation and story was excellent.
I am fascinated by Nell Gwynn and her journey from rags to riches via the English Theatre. I used to lecture students on a theatre course about the Restoration, so of course I could not wait to read this novel. Those interested in this aspect could do worse than visit the current National Portrait Gallery's exhibition of actresses - the scale of the portraits brings you quite literally face-to-face with Nell Gwynn.
But, back to the book -
Nell begins this novel poor and hungry, but soon realises she has a commodity she can sell. Her first encounter does not go entirely to plan, but we all know that she will end up in the bed of a King. Gillian Bagwell is skilful at keeping the reader's interest although of course we all know what will happen to Nell. In an age where violence was the norm, it is no use being coy about sexual relationships, and these are dealt with frankly. Most of the explicit encounters are at the beginning of the book and they lend the book its necessary earthy tone. The whole point of Nell Gwynn was how she used her 'charms', after all.
Once Nell Gwynn is established as a royal mistress the book examines how she is still, as a woman - not to mention the King's whore, excluded from all the decisions and intrigue of life at court. In many ways Nell was better cut out for the role of aspiring courtesan than established mistress. Gillian Bagwell draws these contrasts nicely, and I admired the way she did not let the reader's interest flag.
The novel gives you the sights, sounds and smells of Restoration London and brought Nell's journey vividly to life.
Very highly recommended.