Thursday, January 7, 2010

In the Tudor period, two sister lie abed with the king...

The Other Boleyn Girl
By: Philipa Gregory
Time Period: 1521-1536 Tudor England
Rated: R LOTS of sex (and talk of it), miscarriages and executions...OH MY!

Surely you know about Anne Boleyn and her relationship with the young and reckless (and later tyrannical) King Henry VIII? I bet you didn't know she had a sister who vied for his attention as much as she did. No, this is not the historical fiction version of Mean Girls, we're talking about The Other Boleyn Girl. Who is the other Boleyn girl, the book has no answer to that question. At first, the other girl is Anne, fresh from the French court and had been ordered by her family to force her sister Mary, then the lover of the king, into his bed. But Mary dosen't know that her sister can be as manipulative and ambitious, and as Mary bores him a son, Anne brushes Mary out of the spotlight. So now Mary gets the role of the Other girl, and watches her sister woo her lover and king that she had loved ever since she was a young girl of thirteen.
Of course Anne succeeds Katherine of Aragon, by then totally brushed aside by Henry, but that dosen't make her any happier. On the contrary, more sibling rivalry occurs, and the fact that Mary has had three kids while Anne only contents herself with Princess Elizabeth does not make things easier. Sooner than later, the king finds himself in the skirts of another mistress, while Mary and her brother George have to content themselves of burying dead baby corpses from the queen amoung other things. It's not until the last deformed baby comes out that the lies and the sealing of Anne's fate comes into play.
Philippa Gregory does a nice job of creating an atmosphere of the Tudor court, but that's not enough. During the first part of the book, I had no idea what the dresses and court looks like, all we know is the dresses are made out of "rich cloth" which after about the fifth time really got on my nerves. But after the beginning, the court was nicely described, and I felt in the halls of whatever castle the court moved to during the seasons. Setting aside the details, the characters were probably the best thing in this book. Some reviewers might disagree and call all of them one-dimensional, but one dimensional characters means nothing. You can still have one dimensional characters and they can still be interesting. Anne and Mary for one, have numerous flaws, Anne and her family has a particular tragic flaw which ruins her and her family based on one ambition that turned out to be a mistake.
Mary's thoughts on life, however banal (wants to marry for love and live a quiet life in the country while poor, we've all seen those before) is touching. The fact that she was a narrator really enhanced the book. Had Anne been the narrator, we would miss out on an important thought process and life no matter how historically inaccurate. She is a really interesting bystander and reminds us that she hadn't changed Tudor history, but she had been a pawn in her family's ambition and while watching Anne grow to becoming queen then falling, it had become an experience that she won't forget.
That's all fine... for a while. Does it drag? Does it read like the author has a limited vocabulary? Yes. It's historical fiction after all, the bad bunch tends to do the exact same thing. I have told you about the rich cloth, but a lot of repeated words are used in the same sentence. Not to mention that "and" is one of Philippa Gregory's favorite words. Sometimes, you will get frustrated, rooting for the characters but finding some parts dragging, there's an especially long, LONG scene where Mary is riding to the countryside where she is banished. Nonetheless, it's still a good read, I recommend it for adults, definitely, but instead of wasting your money, check it out of the library. In the end, it's a nice read.

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