This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

So, I said I'd review this one and I will. With all the hype a few weeks ago about Philippa Gregory's newest novel, The White Queen (you can find my review for it here).I thought I'd go ahead and do this review, even though its been several months since I read this book.

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory
3 roses

This is probably the most well known of Gregory's historical fiction novels and a movie version did come out a year or so ago. I enjoyed this book because it was entertaining, I felt like the characters had some depth to them so I cared about what happened to them, and it was an interesting story. That being said (as I said with The White Queen), there are loads of historical inaccuracies. This would not bother me so much if Gregory did not present herself as such a wonderful, through, and in depth historian/researcher. The story covers one of the most intriguing times in British history - Henry VIII's need for a son and break with the Catholic Church. Most people know about Anne Boleyn - Henry's second wife that he moved heaven and hell (literally!) to marry. This story is not told from Anne's point of view but from her younger sister Mary's point of view.

Mary comes to Henry VIII's court a young, innocent girl who has recently married. She is pretty and catches Henry's eye. Her power hungry and scheming family see this as their ticket to bigger and better things and they pretty much shove Mary into Henry's bed. Mary ends up falling in love with the King and baring him two children. She constantly disappoints her family though as she is not really cut out for the manipulative game they're playing. She also has moral qualms about what she is being made to do which directly contradicts what her family expects from her and she struggles with this throughout the story. Despite her family's ambitions, she feels loyalty to Queen Katherine and constantly apologizes for what she is doing on her family's bidding. She is eventually set aside in favor of Anne and watches her astounding rise to power and fame as an unwitting accomplice., knowing that she will forever be in her sister's shadow. Mary takes things into her own hands though and marries a man for love, gaining the animosity of her sister who banishes her from Court. In the country she learns the life of a country wife and realizes she would much prefer it to life at Court. That life catches up to her and she has to return to help Anne through miscarriages and Henry's quickly declining favor. Mary is able to avoid the arrest, imprisonment, and eventual execution that awaits Anne and their brother George.

This is an intriguing and entertaining story to read. It has everything that keeps most readers occupied - love, hate, sex, betrayal, greed, backstabbing, political intrigue, etc. It is NOT, however, the wonderful piece of HISTORICAL fiction that it is promoted as being. There are just way too many historical inaccuracies. Mary, for instance, by most accounts was the older sister though the sisters' exact birth dates are uncertain. Anne, while I do believe she was a very intelligent, shrewd person, I do NOT believe she was the horrible person Gregory portrays her as in this novel. There is also no proof of George's sexual preferences or the possible incest between him and Anne. In fact, the charge of incest between the siblings was most likely concocted by Cromwell and others in order to further damn Anne at her trial. These are just some of the bigger issues with the book (there are a lot of other smaller, more nit-picky points though). I have no problem with Gregory including these things in her story if that is her interpretation of history but she should not be trying to insist that this is absolutely what happened.

The characters in the story are interesting enough for me to care about. I feel sorry for Mary through much of the story because of the way her family treats her. At times I really do not like Anne and at others I can pity her (especially towards the end). Henry really comes across like a selfish little boy and I don't particularly like him either. Queen Katherine is a likable figure (must more so than in the Gregory story about her, The Constant Princess) and I do have to feel sorry for her on occasion.

Overall it is a good read and one that I think most people will enjoy if they don't care about the historical aspect too much. This book has really brought historical fiction to the forefront again and I am extremely grateful to Gregory for this.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your points about the historical inaccuracies - but I go into a book of historical fiction knowing that they have the right to change the story for the best story. I saw the movie - and even though I appreciated the movie - I didn't like it nearly as much as the book. A great review!