Saturday, August 28, 2010

Girl on Book Action: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 0-7432-2744-1


When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. Then Mary knows that she must defy her family and her king, and take her fate into her own hands.

A rich and compelling tale of love, sex, ambition and intrigue, The Other Boleyn Girl introduces a woman of extraordinary determination and desire who lived at the heart of the most exciting and glamorous court in Europe and survived by following her own heart.


Aside:  What's this we're doing a movie / book crossover that doesn't involve vampires?  Next thing you know we'll be building snow forts in hell!

My Thoughts:

Oh where should I start? This was so trashy – and I don’t know why I was a little surprised since it’s a historical romance. If you happen to be following me on twitter, you might have seen me mention that it was like reading centuries’ old gossip. As such, it was a quick and mostly fun read, nothing to really think too deeply about (aside from my usual feminist musings which we’ll get to later, I know, you are just dying to get to that part!). And you know, my hat is off to Philippa Gregory – she wrote this 600+ page tome of a novel and I was fairly immersed in this English court from long ago and really more interested in this gossip about people long dead than I’d like to admit. I guess it speaks to our culture of voyeurism, we not only want to see into other people’s lives now through blogs and twitter, etc, but we also want to do the same with people in the past, even if we do so through a book that is a fictional account of history.

Alright, let me get on a different soap box here (I have so many to choose from!).

Let’s talk characters, shall we? It’s a pretty straight-forward plot with the kind of mudslinging and jostling for position that we all seem to expect when we talk about monarchies and courtiers. And we all know how things ended for Queen Anne, the poor dear. I have to say that I may have preferred to read this story from Anne’s point of view – or if not this particular novel, then I think I’d like to read a novel written from Anne’s point of view, because she seemed like the more interesting sister. Mary was sort of plain and naïve, always so naïve. I know that the blurb says she is determined and takes her fate into her own hands, but – and this might be a spoiler, I really can’t tell – she doesn’t do it alone. She meets a man who is according to everyone a “nobody” because he isn’t part of the gentry and he woos her with some pretty words and she follows him around. To me, that’s not really determination to change her life. I mean, sure she has to choose to defy everyone to marry someone who isn’t a courtier, but that doesn’t seem nearly as big an accomplishment as Anne deposing a born princess-turned-queen. Another character I think I need to address is that of King Henry VIII - I don't know why, but he is portrayed for a large part of the book as handsome and attractive. Now, maybe I don't know as much about King Henry as I should, but I was under the impression that he was a fat glutton of a man. Power is attractive, but to turn him into a young beautiful gentleman seems a bit much. He doesn't get to be fat until he's married to Anne, so when Mary is his mistress she keeps talking about how handsome he is and it really made me shake my head. I guess it's not romantic if you're sleeping with a fat glutton.

Maybe my problem is that I’m not used to reading romance novels or at least not these kinds of romance novels (I read my share of paranormal romance) and therefore I’m looking for a feminist heroine, a woman who follows through on what she wants to do – which would have been Anne. Sadly, at some parts Anne is simply vilified as the mean sister of the two. The end seems to take some of the earlier vilification away, and it’s important to remember that it’s all told from Mary’s point of view and sisters fight, but still, I wanted to read about Anne. I wanted to know what Anne thought and felt and did and the toll her life took on her. I wanted to read about the ambitious sister striving for the throne. I don’t know why I was looking for a feminist novel in a historical romance, but I was and that is simply a silly idea. This novel is not about feminism, it’s about entertainment.

Right, see, I warned you that there would be feminist talk.

Now, don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this book for its entertainment value.  I enjoyed the gossipy nature of it, the portrayal of the striving court families and the things they were willing to do in order to gain favour with the king.  The writing was solid and (aside from Henry being attractive) I found the story and characters to be engaging and believable.

My overall opinion is that if you want to read some old, fictional gossip you might as well read this book. It’s a quick, easy read that (assuming you’re not trying to bed or wed an English king) will take your mind off life for a while. And I’m going to have to go in search of a novel about Anne Boleyn, where she is portrayed as ambitious and educated and witty and all those things will be positive attributes, even if they lead to her eventual downfall.

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