My obsession with historical fiction started with the Cousins War series that I read a few months ago, my first experience of Philippa Gregory. I’ve recently finished her 2002 Romance Novel of the Year; The Other Boleyn Girl which follows the character of Mary Boleyn and the story of her involvement with King Henry VIII, her life outside of the affair and the rise of her sister Anne Boleyn to Queen Anne of England.
As with all historical fiction books, it’s important to remember that they are written by authors rather than practised historians and therefore inaccuracies are likely to happen. From my experience with reading the work of several authors within the genre, it seems that Gregory does take slightly more liberties on the historical accuracy than others but I believe that is because she includes slightly more obscure characters, for example not much is known about the life of Mary Boleyn. However, I do truly adore her writing style and I will be reviewing the book as a work of fiction, rather than with a comparison to any form of historical fact.
Before reading The Other Boleyn Girl, I had seen the 2008 movie adaptation featuring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman and was fascinated at the concept of the Tudor king caught between two sisters from an insanely ambitious family.
The book opens with Mary as a newlywed fourteen-year-old girl at court, just before the return home of her sister Anne from the French court. Despite this she catches the eye of King Henry VIII and the Howard family soon pushes her into his bed before ensuring she becomes the favourite mistress of the king during his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon thus breaking their friendship.
Mary’s recent marriage to William Carey was cast aside and she became pregnant with the king’s child, a son named Henry Carey. Her pregnancy became her downfall as the Howards thrust Anne in the eye of King Henry, in order to keep his focus against the Seymour girls and under their influence. Upon her return, Mary became the favourite once again but soon fell pregnant for a second time. This child was to be her last with the king as Anne rose to become the favoured Howard girl.
The book then revolves around the rise of Anne Boleyn and her actions which led to King Henry VIII cutting ties with the Catholic Church in order to divorce Queen Katherine and take Anne as his wife. The book rotates between two story lines; Queen Anne’s desperation to conceive a son and her rumoured incest with her brother George, and Mary’s secret marriage to William Stafford and her longing for a country life with her children.
Reading of the infamous rise to power of Anne Boleyn is captivating, particularly when told through the eyes of her sister and confident Mary. It is truly endearing when Mary falls in love with William Stafford and is able to marry for love for the first time, even if it initially led to her banishment from court.
Mary constantly turns on the wheel of favour with her own family, first as the favoured whore and then as a possible marriage partner for King Henry VIII when Anne initially falls from favour and then finally as an outcast. Philippa’s character is quite gripping and so wrongly treated by those who should care about her, which makes the whole narrative so intriguing as you wait to see what happens next.
I found myself longing to witness the lavish banquets, see the decadent Queen’s rooms and slap Anne Boleyn for her repeated attacks against Mary. While the historical accuracy of the novel may be called into question, as with any historical fiction piece, you cannot suggest that Philippa Gregory does not have a captivating writing style.
Ultimately the story is a sad one, Mary loses first her brother and then her sister to King Henry VIII’s temper before she disappears into oblivion with her husband William Stafford and her two children, in an attempt to keep her life. However, for the first time, Mary is able to make her life whatever she wants it to be. The Other Boleyn Girl is a must read for any Tudor fan.
You can find The Other Boleyn Girl here.
Guest review contributed by Girl Loves Reading. With the intent of friendly book reviews, this blog is ripe with conversations centered around what is a good read.