Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

 

  • Title: The Other Boleyn Girl
  • Author: Philippa Gregory
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2001
  • Pages: 661
  • ISBN: 0743227441

I first read this book about 7 years ago – I was working at Waldenbooks and whenever I shelved something in the G’s, the cover of this book caught my eye because it was so pretty and shiny. I finally got around to borrowing it and reading it, and I fell in love with it. It was my first real venture into historical fiction, and the first time I really learned anything about the Tudors of England. This is at least the fourth time I’ve read this book.
 
Before I get to the review, I want to say that this book is historical FICTION. Philippa Gregory tends to be criticized because some things in her book aren’t historically accurate – well DUH, it’s fiction. There are going to be some made up bits. If you’re looking for something historically accurate, then read a non-fiction history book. Also, if you’ve seen the unfortunate movie (starring Eric Bana and Natalie Portman), but you haven’t read the book, you really can’t make a judgement on it. It’s a TRILLION times better than the movie. I cannot believe how badly they screwed it up.
 
Anyways, so this is the story of Mary Boleyn, the sister of the famous Anne Boleyn, who was Henry VIII’s second wife. The story starts with Mary as barely a teenager, an innocent girl who falls in love with the King and becomes his mistress, at the encouragement and demands of her greedy family. But when the King’s attention starts to drift, the family orders Anne to catch his eye, and Mary must step aside and assist her rival and beloved sibling to unthinkable heights. Anne’s eventual marriage to Henry VIII and ascension to queenship was absolutley scandalous for it’s time, and it caused a big breech between Rome and the Church of England. It created a tyrant – as some of you know, Henry VIII had six wives in his lifetime, two of which he beheaded.
 
Mary is one of my favorite fictional characters, ever. She’s not brilliant, or particularly witty. But she’s sweet, honest, and is really just trying to keep her head above water in court life. While Anne is depicted as absolutely cold, calculating, and mad with ambition, Mary’s goodness leads her to desire a life away from court, to live in the country with a simple family and away from all of the greed and theatrics of court life. In a world where everyone is only looking out for themselves and a way to advance, Mary just wants to be loved for herself. She just wants a simple life. And while that may be a boring wish to some, it makes for an absolutely fascinating story. I love the complicated family matters, the political conspiracies, the royal intrigues. The story isn’t bogged down with the more boring aspects of court life or dates – everything that happens is vivd and interesting.
 
All of the characters are extremely well done. Everyone has a bright, distinctive personality, from Mary’s good nature to their uncle’s ruthless scheming. Mary and Anne’s brother, George, is a great character – sort of a comic relief character, and a guy who’s dedicated to the family ambitions but is also trying to find his own piece of happiness. Even Anne, who’s kind of nuts and who’s ambition threatens to take the whole family down with her, is a character that I like. Sure, I want to slap her sometimes – but her craziness is infinitely interesting, and you can’t help but cheer for a woman who was trying so hard to make her own way in a world where men ruled.
 
Besides a wonderfully suspenseful story about a broad range of people, the writing is quite beautiful – Philippa Gregory at her absolute best. This is a book in which certain scenes and passages just stick with me, even when it’s been ages since I’ve read it. I’ve read a whole bunch of Gregory’s other novels, and this one is by far my favorite – it has the most interesting characters, the most interesting historical period, and the best writing.
 
Some of my favorite quotes…
 
“When I closed my eyes it was not in prayer, but in a reverie of sensuality.”
 
“For a moment I did not even see the king, I saw only the two of us, bound to be each other’s grief.”
 
“Before anything else I was a woman who was capable of passiona and who had a great need and a great desire for love. I didn’t want the rewards for which Anne had surrendered her youth. I didn’t want the arid glamour of George’s life. I wanted the heat and the sweat and the passion of a man that I could love and trust. And I wanted to give myself to him: not for advantage, but for desire.”
 
 
So yeah, whether you like historical fiction or not, this is a fantastic book. It takes you to another time, and it’s a book you can savor as you read it.
 
I’m so happy I re-read this, at the very least because it’s very wrong that I hadn’t done a review for it on here yet. And because the fact that I devoured all 700-ish pages in only a couple days reassures me that there are still books out there that can keep me reading even when I’m tired.
 
Sarah Says: 5 stars

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. This is one of my favorites. What I really like about Philippa Gregory is that she chooses controversial topics in history. I really liked Mary’s character as well. I read this book long before I saw the movie, and I felt that the movie underwhelmed compared to the magnificent scope of the novel.

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    1. I was just angry at some many little things in the movie… like Eric Bana playing Henry VIII. How is dark-haired Bana the “Golden Prince”, and later the grossly huge King Henry? I mean I know that’s just appearances, but still…

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