Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory

"I knew it was pointless to ask what plans they had. I would have to wait and see. My greatest dread was that they would have a better marriage for her than I had made, that I would have to follow the hem of her gown as she swept ahead of me for the rest of my life. page 12

Mary Boleyn was a married woman whose family and husband encouraged her into the bed of King Henry VIII. While she fell in love with the man known as the 'handsomest prince in Christendom' he moved on to a newer conquest in her sister, Anne. Anne makes it quite clear that Mary was just keeping the bed warm until she made her move. The situation becomes more complicated when Mary has an illegitimate son by the king and Anne convinces Henry to rid himself of his current wife. The rivalry between these two sisters takes place on the royal stage with the entire court looking on as the future of England depends on the whim of their king.

This is essentially a story about women. Katherine, Mary and Anne and their struggle to remain relevant to a king who's not easily satisfied and is obsessed with producing a male heir to solidify the succession. Both sisters serve as a conduit of power and influence for their father, Thomas Boleyn, an example of how women were more a commodity than individuals in the 16th century.

Gregory showcases an interesting family dynamic, between the parents and children and amongst the siblings. While Thomas Boleyn is desperate for whatever advancement he can gain for his family through his sisters, his wife is decidedly cold to the whole affair. The way that George, Mary and Anne stick together and fall apart is by far the most fascinating aspect of the book. It's nice to see how paths diverge and how intertwined the fates of the Boleyn's becomes.

There was also a lot of dialogue that foreshadowed the events to come in far too obvious a manner. I call this "overforeshadowing". For example, Anne says "If I were in your shoes it would be the king or nothing for me," she said. "I'd put my neck on the block for a chance at him". I don't know if Gregory assumed no one knew how the story ended but this deliberate smack to the face made it blatantly obvious what was going to happen and every time it happened I wanted to throw the book at the wall.

I didn't like how Gregory made Henry into this weak man constantly pleading with and appeasing Anne. I've always seen him as the psychotic bully of the Tudor playground. He would and could do anything he liked, and always had to get his way. Anne may have entranced and wooed him for years but in the end he ditched her just as he did many of the other women in his life. In Gregory's book I saw little of the man who lusted for war and wanted to create a name for himself throughout Europe

Gregory may hold a Ph.D. but it's for the wrong century (18th) and to me this is simply a transplanted soap opera will little depth beyond what you might fight in a local wading pool. There were some very descriptive lines like, "there was a trail of extravagance and dishonesty and waste that followed the king round the country like slime behind a snail." page 54 but some of the diction felt too modern for the time it was written in. There was constant talk of change and some of the sensibilities of the women seemed centuries ahead of their time. I understand that Gregory may have tweaked the language and society to make the material more palatable for the average reader but being a student of history, the inaccuracies were like being blinded by bright sunlight.

The really telling thing about the book was that I only started to feel a connection to the story and characters halfway through the book. It was an enjoyable read but I don't think I'd pick it up again.

Rating: 3/5

1 comment:

teflonjedi said...

Saw the movie...mildly entertaining because of the casting, and it was a good way to spend some time on a flight, but otherwise not too memorable.