Wednesday 2 April 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Everyone was doing it. So I decided I would do it. No, not that. Everyone was reading or had read The Other Boleyn Girl. Plus there was a movie coming out with 2 of my favourite actresses and I never want to see a movie before I've read the book.

I initially resisted because I've often thought that Philippa Gregory is a bit of bodice ripping, heavy breathing romance type novelist. And I don't generally go for that type of novel. Plus it was long (529 pages) with really tiny print. Hmmmm, I thought, that's a bit odd for that genre. Maybe I got this wrong. It has happened before. not often but once or twice.

I love historical fiction. Now if somebody had told me that was what this was all about I would have read it ages ago. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel set in the court of King Henry VIII as he is becoming dissatisfied by Katherine of Aragon's failure of produce a male heir to his throne, which, let's face it, used to be the only thing a queen was good for.

King Henry VIII apparently took a fancy to a young lady in the Queen's court, Mary, who was Anne's sister. The fact that Mary was only 14 and already married did not appear to bother the king in the slightest. Mary went on to bear 2 children and it was during her second pregnancy that King Henry decided he fancied Anne Boleyn. And the rest is history, as we say.

I did some research after I finished the book in an attempt to separate the fact from the fiction. It appears that they know very little for fact and much of what is contained in the book has actually been confirmed as historically accurate.

Which is a good thing because I found the book to be absolutely fascinating. The detail about life in the court and how you got there and how you stayed there and how you were disgraced and banished (or beheaded) is incredible. I loved the way these distant yet historical figures were brought to life not in the context of history but as human beings with dreams and disappointments. The women had numerous miscarriages and there is quite an interesting approach to cleanliness. I could imagine the dresses they wore based on the exquisite descriptions and I could even taste the food and wine.

The portrait painted of Katherine of Aragon is very complimentary and I am afraid that Anne is not portrayed in such a manner. She is shown to be power hungry and selfish slowly losing her grip on reality as she looses her grip on the king. Whilst everyone at court is manipulative, Anne is shown to be more than her fair share. The fact that Anne was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, arguably one of the finest monarch in British history is an astonishing fact, especially when you consider she had to unseat Mary, Queen of Scots, daughter of Katherine of Aragon. The argument must have been thin considering Henry used the same argument to sentence her to death that he used to divorce Katherine.

Ultimately, Anne is beheaded. And Henry marries again. And again. And again. And again. But we knew that. What we didn't know was that Mary, Anne's sister went on to marry a man (after the one she was married to dies) she loved and died in relative obscurity and inheriting all the families wealth when her parents died quite early, finding true happiness at last.

Maybe we need to rewrite the fairy tales to show that marrying Prince Charming isn't all it might be cracked up to be. But I do highly recommend this book especially if you enjoy reading about Kings and Queens and the such.

Pages: LOTS! I don't have the book in front of me so I'm not exactly sure but I think it is about 800 or so.

1 comment:

Janell said...

If you liked this, you might like "The Six Wives of Henry VII" by Allison Weir. She has several others that are well researched, and well-written.
I like your assessment of Gregry's book - very well said.