Friday, February 15, 2008
The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
I bought this book a few months back but I was hesitant to pick it up. Anne Boleyn's story is one I researched a long time ago and I wasn't too sure I wanted to revisit it. However this month I decided to read it with A. and A. so we could all discuss it and now I'm glad that I did it.
I wasn't sure I was enjoying it very much at first. Mary Boleyn seemed, at times too innocent and tongue-tied, and at other times an intelligent observer of human nature. I wasn't too convinced with her as a character! A king's mistress should be at the time an enviable position and she seems not to care for it which I found a bit unbelievable. Also Anne seemed too sophisticated for a girl of 16, not only she knows anything and everything about manipulating and seducing a man she is even knowledgeable enough to know her sister wont hold his interest for long and the real secret to do that. Even if she has learned a few tricks in the french court it seems a bit too much that in that time and age powerful nobles like her father and uncle would listen to a mere girl of 16. She seems a bit over the top in her ruthlessness and her knowledgeable attitudes. It's difficult to believe that Mary, being the king's mistress would so readily be ordered about by Anne, she would surely revel in the power she had. And being born is such a family of courtiers it's also difficult to believe she would be as innocent and without malice as she is portrayed here. She might be young but she was surely aware of what riches she could and should obtain. If nothing else from being brought up that way.
I became much more engrossed in the action after Anne captures the kings attention, and seems much more aware of what's at stake, and Mary is allowed to spend more time in the country with the children. It's seems to me that both sisters are much more fleshed out after that and it became more interesting for me too.
I think Gregory tried to paint them has having two opposing tempers and attitudes. To me she went a bit too far, that black and white approach is too unreal. The story is reported from Mary's point of view who is the narrator and is usurped and sometimes humiliated by Anne on her way to the throne. It would be too easy to say that one was the good and the other the bad but I feel that they basically did the same thing. Gregory chooses to portray Mary's affair as the family's ambition and Anne's fight for the throne as her personal ambition but can we really say that was what happened? And is that really relevant? The girl who had Henry's attention when he first thought of getting rid of Catherine would do all in her power to be his future queen. And if Anne was an intelligent and learned young woman who participated in the debates regarding the new religion to help her cause I think that that is more compliment to her than something to condemn. What she may not have realised was that, after getting rid of one queen it would be easier for Henry to get rid of another if she fell out of favour or didn't give him the desired son. He was a king of which it was safer to be mistress than wife.
As Mary's story unfolds I became more and more interested in her. She did really marry a "nobody" and she had to go away because of it, it seems like a beautiful love story and I found myself eager for more details about her and William's courtship. Much more than about Henry and Anne's which is ruined a bit for me because of Gregory’s portrayal of Anne who must have been scheming and determined yes but also intriguing and more complex than she appeared here.
Gregory does take several liberties with the story and I'm usually okay with that if there are no known facts or if there are several theories about it but I was really disappointed with what she decided to use to support Henry's accusations. Totally unnecessary I think, history is interesting enough in this case; no need to pass for truth something that is widely known today to be a lie... The case against Anne Boleyn was so badly done and the king's interest in getting rid of her was so open that even his contemporaries (and Anne's enemies) felt it unfair and without cause.
So yes I think Gregory is a good storyteller if even I am sometimes jarred out of the story by things I recognise as not being true or because the characters react in ways that I find are too modern. I will read her again but I'm hoping she won’t pull much more stunts like that one or she will ruin the books for me.