The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose
London, 1670. In a tremendous opening scene, 15-year-old Eliza, starving and desperate, is thrown into the notorious Clink Prison. From then on, the pace never drops. She is rescued by Ma Gwyn, a bawdy house madam on the look-out for fresh country girls. Eliza is forced to display herself semi-naked as a mermaid at the Midsummer Fair. She is rescued by Ma Gwyn’s daughter, Nell, an actress and soon-to-be-mistress of Charles II. Eliza becomes an ‘orange girl’. We follow Eliza’s struggles to keep her virtue intact and to find her father.
There are plenty of adventures in store for Eliza. Her father repudiates her; the lecherous Henry Monteagle pursues her; she becomes dangerously involved with the highwayman, Claude Duval; and she must grow up fast to survive. Mary Hooper’s depiction of Restoration London rings true with the rakes, the quack doctors and the filth – a world where an unprotected girl is seen as fair game. It is also a terrific read.
There are informative historical notes at the end. Unfortunately, there are a number of historical inaccuracies in the novel: Queen Catherine was Portuguese, not French; ‘sire’ was a title of respect for a king, not a synonym for ‘sir’; and Barbara Castlemaine, Charles’s mistress, is hardly going to ‘demand to be a countess’ when she is already a duchess, two ranks above that.
My main concern, however, is about sex. There are no sexually-explicit scenes, nevertheless, Ma Gwyn grooming Eliza to get the highest price for her virginity, the lecherous lords licking their lips over the ‘mermaid’, the sounds of Nell and her lover humping away in the next room, all contribute to a sexually-charged atmosphere. It’s spot on for the period but is it suitable for ‘young teenage’ as the PR suggests? Personally, I’d prefer 15 plus.