The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory(Cover picture courtesy of Barnes & Noble.)

When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, 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.

A rich and compelling tale 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 own heart.

First off, I don’t like the portrayals of pretty much any of the characters in this novel.  Mary Boleyn was sweet and innocent to the point of being nauseating when in fact she very likely was the mistress of the French king before coming to court in England.  As for Anne Boleyn herself (and don’t kid yourself, this book is really about her) she’s awful.  Truly awful.  Yes, we have accounts of her temper with Henry in later years, but was it truly to the extent Philippa Gregory tries to portray in this novel?  Probably not because she was a very educated, well-spoken and by all accounts, charming young woman.  As for George Boleyn and the homosexual ring around him those claims weren’t even really believed at the time and are laughed at by most historians these days.

As a lot of people mention in their reviews, this book plays with the facts constantly.  Even if I ignored all of the historical inaccuracies (which is hard to do as they’re always present), the story itself collapses.  Mary is just a spineless wimp all the way through the book, even at the end when she finally marries for love.  Her relationship with Henry was pretty unrealistic and I hated the whole Machiavellian schemes her family went through to maneuver her into the position of king’s mistress.  It was just unrealistic and more than a little ridiculous, even when I pretended I was just reading another fantasy book based loosely on history and not historical fiction.

The plot was unbearably slow, even for me.  What could have been around a 300 page book was stretched out over 600 pages.  I mean, really?  I don’t need to know every single detail of Mary Boleyn’s life, especially the boring times when she was nowhere near court.  Honestly, the 1000+ page books of Colleen McCullough have far more action in them than The Other Boleyn Girl.  It’s not even guilty pleasure because finishing this was a chore.  There were so many better ways to approach this, but throwing out the history and making Mary Boleyn ridiculously innocent was not the way to go.

In the end, The Other Boleyn Girl is for people who think soap operas are serious, not guilty pleasure.  If you enjoy descriptions of multiple debaucheries, back-stabbing and playing fast and loose with historical fact, you might like this novel.  If you can get past the navel-gazing introspection, that is.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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    • Carrie Slager

      No problem. I actually got this book for my last birthday and that somehow made it even more disappointing because I had been looking forward to reading it for a long time! Ugh, I can see why this was made into a movie: it’s scandalous to the point of being trashy. Perfect for a film to draw in lots of money.

  1. literaryvittles

    I remember reading this years ago and HATING it. Couldn’t believe it got made into a film, and yet at the same time it was perfect to make into a film – all royalty, rumor, and romance. Can’t believe Natalie Portman lowered herself to that… but then came Thor, which is even worse.

    • Carrie Slager

      I don’t really follow actors so I can’t comment on Natalie Portman but I can definitely see your point. It’s the perfect scandalous type of book people read for pleasure, so optioning it for a movie was a no-brainer for Hollywood.

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