Tuesday, 16 June 2015

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Phillipa Gregory

5 GOLD stars

Historical fiction based on fact

On Amazon UK HERE

At first it seemed a bit daft to review a Phillipa Gregory book, because what the hell does someone like her need a review by little old me for, eh?  But then I remembered - reviews are for primarily for readers, to spread the word about those that are wonderful.

I've taken an enforced break from Kindle reading as I have a poorly Nexus tablet, so I thought I'd treat myself to an old favourite until it's mended ~ I've just finished reading this for the third time and was, once more, humbled by its splendour.  It's the story of Mary Boleyn, the mistress of Henry VIII before he fell for the charms of her sister, Anne.  Much of it is drawn from Ms Gregory's imagination following her research into the social rituals of the time and her extensive knowledge of the Tudors; episodes such as the courtship details between Mary and her second husband, William Stafford are largely fantasy, obviously, but it's written in with sufficient reference to historical fact for the reader to imagine it might have been true - which is, I think, the key to writing this sort of book.   It's unputdownable, it really is.

In The Other Boleyn Girl, Gregory has named Mary as being the younger of the Boleyn sisters, though since the book was written it has been proven that she was the elder.  What interests me so much about this version of events is that Gregory portrays Anne as being only motivated by her ambition; we read that she was not in love with Henry at all, but wanted only the crown.  I don't know how true this is; nobody does.  I like to think that there was genuine passion between them, though.  However, this version did not hamper my enjoyment at all.  It's historical fiction ~ the author can do what she likes with it.   Aside from anything else, situations can be perceived so differently, and are not black and white; perhaps Anne Boleyn was ruled by her ambition, but we don't know that she didn't love the man, too. 

With a book this popular there are bound to be 1* reviews - there are 28 of them, in which readers bring forth the historical inaccuracies, often countering them with inaccuracies of their own; one compared it unfavourably to Hollywoodised The Tudors television series, another to the horrendous film version starring Natalie Portman....!!  The truth is that none of us know what really went on, what Mary Boleyn or Katherine of Aragon or any of the rest of them were like; all we have are letters and quotes and accounts written at the time, which themselves vary in detail.

This is a novel about people; the characters are clear and consistent, the emotions so believable, particularly Mary's grief at being parted from her children, Anne's growing despair as her favour waxed and waned, George's weary acceptance of the life he was forced to live, the ruthlessness of the Duke of Norfolk ~ oh, I could go on and on!   

One thing I love about this book is the passages describing, for instance, Mary's rides out to Hever Castle, or when her lone quest to Essex to regain the love of William Stafford (LOVED that bit) or the summer progress, in which we are given such a feeling of what England was like at that time.  How peaceful it must have been, how much of it was rural, unspoilt.  This, as much as the cloying and cut-throat atmosphere of the court, I found so absorbing I was almost reading the words off the page.  The way travellers were welcomed at monasteries and farms for a bite to eat and a place to sleep.  I'd love to go back 500 years and see it all for myself, wouldn't you?


  1. Oh to be a fly on the wall, but I'm not sure I could cope with the cold and the sanitation! I can't decide if I read this many years ago or have read similar books, some of it is familiar.

    1. I think I could ~ you'd get used to it. I really want to read The Concubine by Norah Lofts now - lots of the reviews recommended that, too.

  2. Brilliant phrase Terry 'humbled by its splendour' - I totally agree, I loved this book and this is a terrific review I'm sure Ms Gregory will be delighted :-)

    1. Ah, she'll probably never see it! I can't read a book without writing about it afterwards, these days, though! I love all her Tudor books, think I've read them all now. The Queen's Fool is a great one, about the period I wrote about in Last Child!