April 3, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

I put this book on hold at the library and although I was fourth in line, it showed up just a few days later. Then, suddenly, I realized that the book was due in six days and I hadn't even started and there was no chance of renewing it. I have learned that if I don't read a book the first time it comes through my hands, I won't be likely to do it the second time around. So, I was pretty determined to finish this book before it was due on Monday.

I've been reading loads of YA books as of late (some of which I may even eventually write about), and so 600 pages suddenly seemed like a lot. Also, the print! It is so very small! Fortunately, one could hardly consider The Other Boleyn Girl heavy reading and I read it in about four days.

The story is told from Mary Boleyn's point of view (the younger sister of Anne Boleyn). She is married at about twelve, but when she's fourteen, the king starts to take an interest in her and her family tells her to forget about her husband (but stay married of course because scandal!) and let the king chase her. And maybe have some children with him. And while you're at it, make sure it's a boy because maybe he'll be king someday.

This goes on for a few years and Mary does indeed manage to have two children with the king (historians apparently aren't sure whether or not the children were really Henry the Eighth's) and one is even a boy. But while she's still on bed rest after the birth, the king starts to wander and the Boleyn family pushes Anne forward (not that Anne needs all that much pushing - she's desperate for power) and she does snag them. But she's not content to be his mistress like Mary. She makes it very clear that, if he wants her, he'll have to put aside his wife, Catherine, princess of Spain, and marry her.

This is when all that craziness with the Pope and Henry and the Church of England starts up. It takes a number of years, but Henry finally rids himself of Catherine and marries Anne. This is extremely unpopular as now no legal wife feels very safe when the legitimate and honorable queen can be put aside for an upstart Boleyn.

Now the pressure is on Anne to get herself a son. She has a daughter. So, she legally adopts Mary's little boy without telling her until the deed is done, which breaks Mary's heart. Mary doesn't care all that much about being set aside as the King's mistress because her heart is wrapped up in her children.

Anne continues trying for her own son, but she suffers three miscarriages, the third being a horribly deformed child. The news of this last child spurs Henry to action; he's already been dallying with other women, particularly Jane Seymour, but now he wants free of Ann since she is clearly incapable of giving him a male heir and also to prove that the "monster child" is not his fault.

Trials begin, casting suspicion on Anne and claiming that she's involved in an adultery ring which includes her beloved brother, George. They are all hauled off to the Tower and then, despite claiming that Anne will be sent to a nunnery, Henry has her, along with the other men, beheaded.

Mary has always been close to Anne, but also very jealous of her and isn't quite sure how to think of this. She knows that Anne has drifted into dangerous and forbidden paths to keep her crown and to get a son, so she worries how much of the accusations are true. And, since Anne was ruthless about having Catherine chucked, it does seem a bit like it was coming to her to now have her own hold on the throne yanked from under her. And Mary has her own life outside of the increasingly dramatic court; her first husband has died years before and she's secretly remarried to a commoner who she absolutely adores.

Um, yes, that's the whole story. Please, you already knew Anne Boleyn lost her head. That won't come as any big surprise. I did really enjoy watching the whole thing unfold, even knowing the ending. The change in the tone of the court - from civilized and steady to out-of-control - is very well-written. You can feel it become more mad by the moment and by the time Anne gets herself offed, it's no surprise. The events of the past decade have clearly been building to such a moment and Anne has really no one but herself to blame for this.

The book cover claims that the two are best friends but also rivals and that Mary has to step aside to give Anne her chance. I didn't read it that way - it was hard to tell that they were ever very emotionally close and Mary didn't so much step aside as get completely shoved out of the way by Anne.

I know the movie just came out and I was interested to find that Natalie Portman plays Anne and Scarlett Johannsen plays Mary, since it's hard for me to envision Natalie Portman playing such a power-hungry woman. The movie has gotten fairly horrendous reviews, alas, but I still might see it now just because I've read the book.

RA asked if the book was indeed slightly smutty and the truth is there are a few pages you might want to just turn quickly. And of course part of that is that King Henry VIII was a big womanizer - the whole six wives thing doesn't happen if you aren't pretty interested in new and pretty wives every few years. And having your second wife convince you that you don't need the Pope and in fact you can do whatever you want makes you a bit insane with power after a while.

Also, this is clearly only relevant to the copy I had, but the first thirty pages had fallen out in a big old chunk so the library lady rubberbanded the whole mess together for me, but I took it off to read, obviously, and then I started sticking the missing pages in as a bookmark. Very handy. And when we were in the car in Houston and my mom had nothing to read, I simply handed her the first thirty pages. It was very nice. You should go ask for that copy.


  1. This is such an interesting review. The story sounds really interesting. Now I want to see the movie.

    Also, the ending of this post was really funny.

  2. Also, the print! It is so very small!

    You're hilarious, Jass. I frequently forget that I am reading a friend's blog during your posts and think I'm reading Dooce or Dave Barry is back from the old or something.

  3. I read this one last month and really enjoyed it. Fairly light reading considering the subject matter, I think. It was a really politically charged time and the author talked enough about politics that I had a general idea of what was going on but not so in depth that I got bored. It's a fine line for me.

    It did make me want to see the movie though. And the other day I started to watch an episode of The Tudors on the internet because it's about Henry and Anne and it turns out that's not such a great idea. It's basically porn. I don't recommend it.

  4. You make me want to read it. I do have a popular bio of the Wives of Henry on my TBR, perhaps I should get this one and (try to) read them back to back?

    I want to mention how much I like the colors of your blog every time I make it over here. It's very soothing.

  5. I just finished reading this a few weeks ago. I thought I'd like it but I was totally transfixed by it! Like you said, the writing is fabulous and the gradual change in court is fascinating. I must admit I didn't read it in 4 days though!

    And about the Tudors. I've been watching it too. We (my sister and I) have to keep the remote handy for fast forwarding. It's fascinating to watch but I find myself bugged that it doesn't seem to follow the same timeline as The Other Boleyn Girl. He moved on from Mary to Anne in like one episode.


  6. so I'm officially stocking you on both your blog and goodreads, I hope you don't mind.
    I have this on hold for myself at the library and I'm #87 I think...but hey, I started out at 99, so maybe I'll get there someday

  7. I recently finished this one as well and really enjoyed it.

  8. I am a big fan of Philippa Gregory. Since you liked The Other Boleyn Girl, may I recommend The Boleyn Inheritance. It's the sequel and is told from the prospective of his next 4 wives. Very good reading. There are two more books in the series called The Queens Fool (also good) and The Virgin's Lover (still trying to force myself to finish).
    As for the movie- I have always loved watching "period" movies such as found on PBS' Masterpiece Theatre. This movie had some great acting and costuming, but overall, it wasn't that great to me. There were some important pieces of the Boleyn story missing. Worth watching, though.
    Good review, Jansen!

  9. I liked this book, too. I got totally absorbed in the drama. But it was a little romance novel-y for me. I can't decide whether or not the movie will be worth it.

  10. I just finished this book last night and really enjoyed it. It sucked me right in and kept my interest until the very end, even though I obviously knew what the outcome would be. I saw the movie first, and wasn't very impressed - after reading the book, I realized how many elements of the story were changed in the movie. As I was reading, I was picturing Scarlett Johannsen as the narrator because of the movie.

  11. i loved that book!!! definitely one i want to add to my library. :) as for the smut...hmmm!!! still a great book!

  12. Good review! I was surprised at the cast too for the movie. But I actually liked it (aside from the fact that they had to leave out a bunch of stuff). And the characters worked...Natalie Portman definitely got into her role. :-)

  13. I just have to clarify that "smutty" was totally not my word! But I did hear it from two independent sources, so what does that say?

  14. I read this book about a year ago (maybe more?) and really loved it. Thanks for bringing back good memories!

    Also, maybe I am just desensitized for whatever reason, but I really don't remember all that much smut in the book. Yet, other people seem to, so maybe I am remembering it wrong. Or maybe I am just really smutty and therefore not bothered by reading smut. Could go either way, really. :)

  15. I finally just read this blog. Obviously. My mom and Chelsea told me that you had written about this book but I was actually in the middle of reading it when you wrote this (funny that we were reading the same book at the same time) and I knew that you would ruin it for me if I looked...which you would have. But I have to agree that I quite enjoyed the book as well!

  16. Dave's sister, her sister-in-law and myself are going to go watch the movie tomorrow...you are invited if you feel the sudden desire to drive to idaho! :)


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