Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Mary Boleyn catches the eye of Henry VIII when she comes to court as a girl of fourteen.
Dazzled by the golden prince, Mary’s joy is cut short when she discovers that she is a pawn in the dynastic plots of her family. When the capricious king’s interest wanes, Mary is ordered to pass on her knowledge of how to please him to her friend and rival: her sister Anne.

Anne soon becomes irresistible to Henry, and Mary can do nothing but watch her sister’s rise. Anne stops at nothing to achieve her own ambition. From now on, Mary will be no more than the other Boleyn girl. But beyond the court is a man who dares to challenge the power of her family to offer Mary a life of freedom and passion. If only she has the courage to breakaway – before the Boleyn enemies turn on the Boleyn girls…
I read this book for the first time 2-3 years ago when everyone was talking about it and the movie adaptation was in the making. Undecided if I should part ways with it or not, I picked it up again for a reread. My opinion of this book didn’t change much since the last time, but I was even less tolerant towards the irritating Mary and the obnoxious Henri VIII. This is my original review with some changes…

I still remember getting really annoyed the first (and even the second!) time I read this book with the historical liberties taken by Philippa Gregory. The Other Boleyn Girl is loosely based on real facts and far from being an accurate historical portrayal. This was clearly getting on my nerves, which is never a good sign. Many parts of this story were based in unproved theories and even Mary Boleyn’s life is mostly a mystery. There’s very little information, especially about her relationship with her sister or/and the King Henry VIII.

Sometimes I don’t mind historical inaccuracies if the author creates a gripping story that makes you forget everything else. No matter how much I tried, it was almost a struggle to keep reading and just try to get to the end without actually trowing the book against the wall.

It’s rather obvious that the author has a huge sympathy for Mary Boleyn and even, occasionally, a bit of a condescending attitude towards the young, pretty and naive girl who fell helplessly in love for her king. Now, Anne is an entirely different matter, she’s described as a true villainess! An intelligent and ambitious young woman who did everything she could to attract Henry’s attention and become a Queen. Two sisters. The fair and the dark one. The generous and the ruthless. This omnipresent dichotomy was kind of annoying and took some of the characters complexity and richness.

Henry VIII gained here a portrait of the perfect man that I never really imagined he could be. He might have been a charismatic king, even charming occasionally but someone physically attractive, sweet and gentle and an attentive husband? For some moments, I even had the feeling that everyone had their schemes and intrigues, except for him. He is clearly a victim, just like sweet Mary.

What really bothered me in this story was the sensationalized end. The incest with the brother, the accusations of witchcraft and treason. Gregory gives reason to the king for murdering his wife when nothing, absolutely nothing proves she was guilty of all those crimes. Even knowing the flaws, the historical inaccuracies and trying to keep this as a light read, I just couldn’t stomach this one without some frustration.

The last time I read this book, Gregory’s writing style made up for the less pleasant parts. This time around, I was simply exasperated by this over the top drama.
Grade: 3/5


  1. I couldn't agree more with your assessment of this novel! Even before I knew much of the Tudor world, I thought the ending was too Hollywood to be true and since studying it more over the years, I consider it one of the more annoying HF books I've read. And the fact that the author has stated publicly that she closely researches the topics in her books and sticks as close to fact as she can is extremely irritating. Poor Anne - she never had a chance in PG's book!

  2. I saw the movie adaptation of this book, and I was also bothered by the sensationalized ending.

  3. I have wondered a few times how this book would stand up to a reread, or any of PGs books to be honest, and I am really not sure that it would be that well!

  4. Thanks for the honest review! I had read The Other Boleyn years ago, and didn't care for it enough to seek out other Gregory novels...sounds like I'm not alone :)

    Elizabeth--I agree--if an author says they research and stands by that proudly, I expect to see that in the work.

  5. I never finished this book and the movie made me livid, both versions. I don't agree with Gregory's contention that Anne was the eldest and Mary younger, and I disagreed also with her version of Mary as this naive, innocent young thing. History tells us that Mary had a bit of a reputation before she even arrived back in England after serving at the French court which Gregory ignores. I've read other of her Tudor books including The Boleyn Inheritance which I actually liked.

  6. I have HUGE misgivings about the Tudor/HenryVIII trend at the moment.
    Good to see i'm not the only one .

  7. I grew up reading lots of history in addition to the "old school" historical fiction writers (Plaidy, Seton, Lofts, Campbell-Barnes, etc.), where you had an expectation of reasonable historical accuracy. I simply could not get into Philippa Gregory's work--I found significant errors and distortions from documented facts and I didn't feel Gregory's writing style was engaging enough to make me overlook that. When I want plausable historical fiction about the Boleyn sisters' relationship, I'll pull out my old copy of Norah Lofts's THE CONCUBINE.

  8. While I can't disagree with the immense liberties taken by the author - I really enjoyed her books. I have read several of them so far and they are enjoyable to me - but I can overlook the historical issues for the enjoyment factor.

  9. Excellent analysis. Gregory is a Tudor scholar's nightmare. They are good fluff books - no substance for when you want something mindless to read.

    I am a Jean Plaidy and Elizabeth Chadwick fan for accurate as possible historical fiction.