Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn GirlThe Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've always looked at Philippa Gregory's books with interest, so I'm glad I finally checked one out from the library and read it. I'm hooked now! What makes this book work is that she successfully makes Mary Boleyn a sympathetic character, a young woman used as a pawn by her politically ambitious family. She becomes King Henry's lover, bears two of his children, and then loses him to her famous sister, Anne. She is astute enough to realize that she does not have what it takes to raise her family to royal status, and thus is content to let her sister bear that burden. She, meanwhile, finds her own way in the world in spite of the restrictions placed upon women in this society. Without an appealing character with a sense of morals, it would be very hard to navigate King Henry's court, with all of its political and sexual games. I have no idea (and neither might Ms. Gregory, for that matter) whether Mary Boleyn was any such person, but this fictional version of her deftly walks the narrow line between historical accuracy and the reader's sympathy.

Anne comes off as a petty, self centered social climber with enough political intelligence to get the throne, but not enough to keep it. King Henry is painted as a selfish prince accustomed to having his way. Queen Katherine is regal in every sense of the word; the daughter of Queen Isabella (queen regent, not consort, of Castille), a devoted wife and valiant mother. I'm not sure how much my reading was helped by the fact that I've seen many of the locations, living as I do, in London. There is not a lot of scene setting and description, but I think the narrative threads serve to pull the reader along, and the interested scholar can look up these details for a richer picture. This, for me, was a fun way to learn the history.

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