Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory

Summary: Two sisters competing for the greatest prize: the love of a king. A rich and compelling novel 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 heart.When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled, 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.

My Review: You might expect a book of this size to have lulls or slow parts. It doesn’t. The editing is tight, and the tension builds throughout. I could not wait to see what would come next.
There are those who don’t care for historical fiction because the outcome is a forgone conclusion.. the ending a certainty. I was worried about this, but by page 5 I had forgotten all about my expectations. Even after studying the period quite extensively in school, I was completely hooked.

Framed by two executions, this novel reads like a 16th century soap opera, full of scandal, danger, murder, ambition, greed, opulence, sex, incest, and more. The Other Boleyn Girl is told from the perspective of Mary Boleyn, the lesser known sister of Anne Boleyn, one of King Henry VIII’s six wives. Taking sibling rivalry to new heights, it tells the tale of two sisters vying for the attentions of the king, and a fiercely ambitious family who sacrificed their daughters in order to find favor, wealth and power.

Mary comes to court as a young girl. Married to William Carey at age 12, she soon catches the eye of the king. She is then ordered by her family to leave Carey’s bed to become the king’s mistress in the hope that their affair will yield land, riches, and power for the Howard/Boleyns. An obedient daughter, she sets aside her own life and desires and does as she is told. After several years and two illegitimate children, the king’s interest begins to wane. The more ambitious sister, Anne, is thrown into his path, and Mary falls from favor. The madness that is Anne’s exhaustive pursuit of the king takes over. Anne, using Mary and their brother George, will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She creates a situation with Queen Katherine that seals her own fate years later.

The historical detail is flawless and the research extensive. It was fascinating to learn about the way people lived, the inequality of English society (from deep poverty to amazing wealth), the expectations of women, the small daily rituals and the use of household items like lice combs (yes, lice, even among the highest levels of society). I was impressed by Ms. Gregory’s writing, the way she handled the complexities of the characters and the seamless blending of fact and fiction. This is an enthralling novel, one I would highly recommend.

Also, as an interesting side: The end of the book is filled with book club ready questions, and an interview with Ms. Gregory regarding the fact/fiction aspect of the book. Well, worth reading, even as your emotions are heaving from the last 100 pages of the book, which seem to hold you as tight as the stomachers constantly referred to in the novel.

My Rating: 5 stars

If I could sum up this book in one phrase: How far ambition can carry us, the trick is knowing when to let go of the rope.


MindySue said...

I've had this one on my shelf for forever and heard amazing things about it. Do you think it falls under the romance label as well, I've heard maybe but I don't know. How close does the movie follow the book (if you've seen it).

Irish said...

We did this book as a book club last year and we all loved it :) .... As ever the book is far better than the movie which jumps about abit ...

lani said...

I just found this blog from mormon mom blogs! I heard this book was great but the love scenes were a bit (not molly mormon) too much! Did you think it was too bad?

Kim R. said...

To answer Mindy's questions: yes, I guess technically this could fall under a romance label, however I find it to be very secondary.
The movie is prbably about 1/3 of the book. They did o fine job in the 2 hours they had,but a lot of the plots intricacies(spelling?)are lost or muffled. There are two large differences, but that will be for the reader to discover. It is pretty much true to the book, minus character depth and intensity.
And Lani, I found the sex scenes to be very mild at first and sort of build from there. As much as anything there is talk of sex, sexual favor, french tricks, that sort of thing. The actual scenes are fairly tasteful and appropriate for the book. All in all: you may be a bit surprised in a few parts, but don't let that stop you from reading this book.


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