Lisa's Reviews > The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
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Mar 24, 2008

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Read in May, 2008

I can't imagine that anyone who picks this book up is not at least somewhat familiar with the historical story of Henry VIII and his unfortunate marital history so the plot is no mystery. I was only vaguely aware of the rumors of his relationship with Anne's sister, Mary Boleyn, and Mary is the narrator and witness to the story.

The marked physical and temperment differences between Mary and Anne were contrived and hard to believe. Truly I think it was just a lazy way for the author to get the reader to immediately understand the situation: Mary - Good; Anne - Bad. How did two girls with identical backgrounds and upbringing end up so diametrically opposite in personality and ambition? How did Anne not get married off to the benefit of her family as did her YOUNGER sister, Mary? I kept coming back to these questions when reading the book and the lack of explanation of the inconsistencies of their respective situations bothered me. It's the age-old Madonna/Whore dichotomy and I expected better.

I can't imagine that this book can be taken as a historically-accurate recounting of the story so I discounted much of the more "Harlequinesqe" happenings, but it did provide interesting background into how King Henry could go from loving husband to Katherine of Aragon to tyrant and despot so easily led around by the nose by Anne. Obsession with Anne alone didn't explain why he completely went off the deep end during the second half of his reign. When he finds that his power is truly absolute, I don't know anyone that wouldn't easily lose their sense of boundaries and become rudderless. For the first time that I was able to understand that evolution.

The author makes an obvious effort portray the absolute lack of power/autonomy that women struggled with during the era. But, even given that context, I had a hard time believing that Mary, or Anne for that matter, would be so passive in the face of the machinations of their family. My understanding is that once a woman married, she was her husband's "property", but certainly not here and Mary's husband's actions never rang true for me. I also found Mary's troubled relationship with Anne hard to swallow. Even when the writing was on the wall and given Mary's strong feelings for her own children, she seemed unable to break free from putting her sister first and doing what she knew to be morally right. Bullocks.

But, the thing I kept wondering after finishing this book was: What was Anne thinking? I couldn't imagine she thought this was going to end well for her--regardless of her able manipulations. Once a King throws over one woman, every subsequent woman is in a precarious position and Anne doesn't ever seem to clue into that. For someone who seemed so attuned to handling the King early on, firey Anne inexplicably lost the ability to read/fulfill his desires when it mattered most. Enter docile Jane Seymour. The Boleyn family gambled quite a lot when the whole question of success boiled down to one uncontrollable fact: Anne's always questionable ability to produce a legitimate male heir and we all know how that worked out. They put all their eggs into Anne's basket and suffered for it.

I think I agree with other reviewers in that I recommend reading this as a piece of historical fiction rather than an actual retelling of the ill-fated relationship between Henry and Anne. The story was engrossing and I enjoyed exploring the questions of women's roles in marriage and family within the Tudor court. There were a number of memorable characters for me, namely Queen Katherine and even George Boleyn, that I enjoyed reading. I haven't seen the movie, but I imagine this story, filled with sex, betrayal, sex, and conspiracy, and a little sex, should translate well in Hollywood.

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Windy Great review!

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