The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 661 pages, 2001

Rating: 10/10

Reason for Reading: It’s just consistantly come up as a ‘must-read’ over the past few years, so I finally hopped on the bandwagon.

Synopsis: The Other Boleyn Girl is set in sixteenth century England, where King Henry is growing weary as his wife, Queen Katherine, has been unable to bear him a son. As she ages, the window of time she has left to give him an heir to the throne grows ever narrower, and the family of Anne and Mary Boleyn is determined to take advantage of this fact. In their quest for wealth and power, the Boleyn family may be willing to sacrifice body, mind, and soul…

Why you should read this book: A sign of a great historical fiction writer is the ability to inject large doses of suspense and intrigue into well-known stories, in this case, the story of Anne Boleyn. If you fear huge, droning historical novels, you don’t need to worry, as the almost-700 pages fly by all too quickly. Very well-written, with the dialogue flowing easily from the characters – the language is highly readable without being too modern for the setting. Despite the basics of the plot – treason, sibling rivalry, constant plotting in a search for power, love, betrayals – the story doesn’t sink into soap opera dramatics; rather, it’s a mesmerizing account of two sisters driven by their family to sacrifice anything, even each other, as they strive towards a prize that they might not even want. Telling the story from the point of view of Mary, the forgotten sister, adds a fresh perspective to this tale of the royal court.

Why you should avoid this book: Obviously, if you’re not interested in historical fiction, or England’s royal family, you probably won’t want to sit through more than 650 pages of it (although, it’s not bogged down in details – the story spans fifteen years). As with all history, there’s some speculation in the book, some of it controversial, so save The Other Boleyn Girl for pleasure reading, not history paper writing.

Opening paragraph:

I could hear a roll of muffled drums. But I could see nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold. I had been at this court for more than a year and attended hundreds of festivities; but never before one like this.

Fabulous quotes:

‘You’d better wear your cream gown,’ she said. ‘No need to look the whore. I’ll get you some hot water. You’ll have to bathe.’ She raised her hand to my protests. ‘Yes, you will. So don’t argue. And wash your hair. You have to be spotless, Mary. Don’t be such a lazy slut. And get out of that gown and hurry, we have to go to Mass with the queen in less than an hour.’
I obeyed her, as I always did. ‘But are you happy for me?’ I asked as I struggled out of the stomacher and petticoat.
I saw her face in the mirror, the leap of jealousy veiled by the sweep of her eyelashes. ‘I am happy for the family,’ she said. ‘I hardly ever think about you.’

‘Why does he not just tell the queen that she must leave?’ George asked simply. ‘There’s not a court in Europe that would condemn him. Everyone knows he has to have a son.’
‘He likes to think well of himself,’ I explained, watching the turn of Anne’s head and hearing her ripple of low laughter. ‘He could not bring himself to turn off a woman just because she’s become old. He has to find a way to see that it is God’s will that he leaves her. He has to find a greater authority than his own desires.’
‘My God, if I was a king like him I’d follow my desires and I wouldn’t worry myself whether it was God’s will or no,’ George exclaimed.
‘That’s because you’re a grasping greedy Boleyn. But this is a king who wants to do the right thing. He can’t move forward until he knows that God is on his side.’
‘And Anne is helping him,’ George observed mischievously.
‘What a keeper of conscience!’ I said spitefully. ‘Your immortal soul would be safe in her hands.’

Also recommended: Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber; Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Also by this author: The Boleyn Inheritance; The Virgin’s Lover; The Queen’s Fool; Wideacre; The Favoured Child; Meridon; The Wise Woman; Mrs. Hartley and the Growth Centre; Fallen Skies; A Respectable Trade; Perfectly Correct; The Little House; Earthly Joys; Virgin Earth; Zelda’s Cut; Bread and Chocolate.

Fun tidbit: Gregory does not read historical fiction books herself, because she fears absorbing and repeating an incorrect fact in her own novels.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *