Thursday, September 2, 2010

"The Other Boleyn Girl" by Philippa Gregory

Title: The Other Boleyn Girl
Author: Philippa Gregory
Published: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001
Where I Got It: The library
Why I Read It: Heard a lot of buzz about it

It could only be a matter of time before I reviewed this one. It was inevitable. I'm going to start this review off by saying this was the very first book set in a time before the 1700s that I'd ever read. It was definitely the first Tudor book I'd had an association with. You can basically say that this books started my love affair with 16th century England, Henry VIII, and everyone/everything else associated with this time period. For that, Philippa Gregory, I give you a mad props. You made the historical geek that was buried deep inside of me come screaming out into the world....and here I am today.

Like I said, I went into this book knowing virtuously knowing nothing at all except Henry VIII had a lot of wives and that this one in particular, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded. That's it. This is all that Philippa G. expects you to know, and she runs with it. As the title implies, the book is about the less famous of the Boleyn sisters, Mary. She was Anne's younger sister, an early mistress of Henry whom he delightfully deflowers and she later bore two of his children. When Anne comes waltzing into the court, Henry is immediately obsessed with her. Anne keeps him wrapped around her finger for six years, never fully taking the title of mistress. Henry in the meantime kicks out his old spinsterish wife, Katherine of Aragon and tells the Pope to GTFO. He marries Anne and they have a much unwanted daughter, Elizabeth. Meanwhile, Anne is sexually aroused by her homosexual brother, gives birth to a bunch of deformed babies, and in retaliation, and takes ward of Mary's son, never allowing Mary to call him her son again. Henry is getting tired of Anne's inability to produce a son and her general bitchiness, so when it is found out that she is a witch, he figures this is the perfect time to get rid of her. Since being a witch is a crime, and so is sleeping with hundreds of other men while being married to the king, Anne gets punished pretty severely: she gets her head cut off.

[Wondering why all of the random phrases are bolded? They are just a few of the historical errors found in the book. Since I was clueless when I first read it, I never noticed them, but just in summarizing the book more than a year later, I am literally pulling my hair out.]

So where is Mary this whole time? Other than being without her son and banished from court (which is probably a good thing in her eyes), she's living a grand life. She married a man of lower rank purely for love, lived in the country and planted crops. Because she stayed away from her family and the court during Anne's reign, she was able avoid punishment in being associated with Anne (their poor brother, George, one of the only likable characters, sadly did not).

Throughout her other Tudor novels, it is blatantly obvious that Philippa hates Anne Boleyn, and in essence, Elizabeth I. They are always written out to be awful, evil, horrible characters. Mary says something along the lines of "Anne wants everything that isn't hers" and it's so true; her selfishness is disgusting in this book. When her head was hacked off, it was the first and only time I would ever cheer at that event.

OK, it must sound like I hate this book with all my being, but I really don't. I just hate the fact that Philippa felt like she needed to fluff up and twist the book around just to make it interesting. In reality, this period of time doesn't need any help in being interesting and colorful on its own.

So after all this, what's the verdict? Believe it or not, 4 stars. I'm not sure if I can ever read it again without cringing but since it planted the historical seed that made me who I am today, it has a special place in my heart. And yes, that is the dorkiest thing I have ever written.


  1. I loved this a book. I don't know much about the history of that time but I researched a little after finishing and was appalled by the differences between the novel and what actually happened.

    But, the story was captivating and well written. I've recently purchases another one of her novels (The Queen's Fool) that I hope to get around to reading soon.

    I agree with you, though. I really enjoyed the book but INCREDIBLY frustrated by all of the inaccuracies. And like you said: They weren't needed. The real history is a fascinating story in and of itself.

  2. I thought this book was a good beach read. There are definitely inaccuracies in the book. I don't think there's even evidence, but just speculation that Anne's brother was a homosexual.

  3. I really enjoyed/enjoy the review/s in your post/s because although i'm sooo interested in hearing things about that time, and i find it fascinating...i'm the kind of girl that tends to put her fingers in her ears and shout "la la lalalalala" at the top of my voice whenever i hear anything bad, or anything that affects my "happy ending" need! This way, reading your blog, i get to have a snippet of that era without actually having to endure a lot of the sadness! So a big thank you! lol.

  4. I agree with everything you said 100 percent, and it was the book that brought my historical side out into the world as well. When I did my own research after the fact, and started reading Weir, I was appaled at the way Gregory portrayed Anne, who is my favorite historical character now. You are right, she obviously hates her and Elizabeth. Have you read The Queen's Fool? Gregory ripped Elizabeth to shreds in that one. Anyway, great review.

  5. I thought this book was okay, but I didn't love it for some reason!! I will have to read another book of hers.

  6. This is pretty much the way I feel myself - got a lot of pleasure from reading the book, and it got me back into reading new HF, but I can't agree with the way Anne and Mary are portrayed. This is one to enjoy but take with a bucket of salt IMO.

  7. Agreed with everyone.
    Rummanah Aasi--I was wondering where that rumor even came from. It's hard to find a contemporary telling of George without some hint to him being gay. In reality he was quite a womanizer.
    Danielle, I have read The Queen's Fool, but didn't notice the Elizabeth hate quite as much as in The Virgin's Lover. That one was awful.
    Have any of you guys seen the movie? Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johanssen as Anne and Mary is almost blasphemy in my book. It was just terrible IMO.

  8. Whoa, I can't believe that for you and so many others this was the first historical book they read. And for a lot of people it will be the only historical fiction book they ever read. No wonder so many people have a horribly warped view of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I - Gregory has an almost pathological bias against them (we real historians try to avoid giving out our personal preferences like the plague because we don't want to skew our work), and also she's not an historian despite various claims that she is - her PhD is in 18th century literature, not History or similar. Sorry but Philippa Gregory's books just make me so mad. We had ony just got to the point where Anne was being examined objectively as a real, human woman, neither saint nor witch, and Gregory's book has basically set the public perception back about 200 years. Amongst my circle of friends and general extended associates at the university, we all swap stories on what books/films to avoid and Philippa Gregory is known as a real stinker.

    I can't believe she was your first book about pre-1700?! And so late in life too! Sorry, that probably seems normal to you but to me that boggles the mind - I read my first history books when I was 5 and I remember the first one was about Elizabeth I and the second was The Odyssey... and I've never looked back since, ended up pursuing it in school through the increasing stages of qualification, ended up winning a place at a prestigious uni with the highest rated History department in the country, and have now got degrees and am doing post-graduate research. Do you think this is an American/British divide thing? Because, you know, Europe is like "where the history comes from" and I think Americans have a tendency to think they don't have any history pre-Columbus (which I think is nuts because the thousands of years of Native American history is very rich and fascinating!). I've noticed that in American schools the topics of history classes tend to be all about the Civil War or the War of Independence and so on, no early stuff.

    Apologies for writing so much... English and writing has always been my other passion so I tend to end up writing a lot. By the way, anyone looking for a definitive work on Anne Boleyn should read "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn" by Eric Ives; it's the benchmark. So recommended to you all by a bona fide historian with a specialism in the Tudors.

  9. I have a question if any of you have seen the film on "The Other Boleyn Girl" do you think ir is biased or objective? And do you place confindence in the author's findings?



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