528 of 577 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2002
I had more or less given up reading historical novels when I ran out of books by Jean Plaidy to read. For me, she was one of the truly rare authours (saving Sharon Kay Penman of course) who got the feel, tone and character of her subject matter right. So that I had more or less stopped looking out for new books in this genre to read. And then I saw "The Other Boleyn Girl" at my local bookstore, and after sampling the first chapter, I realized that I had to buy this book. And I'm awfully glad that I did. What a simply wonderful read!! Phillipa Gregory did a really splendid job of evoking the splendor and turbulence of Henry VIII's court. I also thought that her choice of narrator, Mary Boleyn (the elder of the Boleyn sisters) was an inspired as well. Most historians (and perhaps I've only read the those that espoused this majority view) tend to dismiss Mary as an empty headed good time girl because she was used and cast aside with very little ceremony; and because she never rose as high as her sister, Anne. But you have to wonder: Mary was also the only Boleyn sibling to survive the vicissitudes of Henry VIII's reign, and the fall of the Howard-Boleyn fortunes; she also managed to marry for love (and a happy and lasting marriage it proved to be too) the second time around. So perhaps there was a lot more to the 'other Boleyn girl' than everyone credits?
Gregory's novel opens and closes with two executions -- it begins with the execution of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, and ends with the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. With this rather grim events framing her book, the novel proper starts in 1522, with Anne arrival at the Tudor court, where her elder sister, Mary, is already lady-in-waiting to Henry's wife, Queen Katherine. From the very beginning we see that while there is a bond that ties the Boleyn sisters together, there is also a deep rooted rivalry between them. It is a tense time at court: the queen (already quite a few years older than her husband) has yet to produce a male heir to the throne, and people are beginning to question if the aging queen will ever be able to bear children again. Some of Henry's advisers are even began to gently hint that he should put his Spanish wife aside and look for a younger more fecund wife. In the midst of all this intrigue, Mary soon catches the king's roving eye. Although she is married and still quite loyal to the queen, her family (her ruthless parents as well as her uncle, the powerful and equally ruthless Duke of Howard) decrees that she put her marriage and loyalties aside and cater to the whims of her king. Bedazzled, it doesn't take Mary very long to fall in love with both her golden king and her role as the his 'unofficial' wife. A few years and two royal by-blows later however, Mary is shunted aside when the king begins to loose interest in their relationship and her ambitious family fearful that they will loose all the power that they have gained, throws the more ruthless and seductive sister, Anne at the king's head. From then on Mary, her eyes finally wide open as to how low her family will stoop in order to gain power, watches from the sidelines as her family, led by Anne, begins their high stakes play for the queen's crown. Finally realizing that she can only depend on herself for her own future, Mary is inspired to take a few risks herself in order to gain some measure of happiness and security.
The sheer scope of this novel is gigantic -- there were so many things that were going on both on and off stage and the number of people that were involved in all these shenanigans! So that it was a treat to find that the novel unfolded smoothly and effortlessly, and that Gregory did not drop the ball once. She kept each chapter short and succinct, and yet still managed to give the reader an enthralling and exciting account of what was going on. I also liked the manner in which she depicted all the characters in this novel. From Queen Katherine who was portrayed not only as a loyal and loving wife, but also as an intelligent woman who saw and understood what was going on around her, even as she clung to the hope that the king would recover from his obsession with Anne; to the authour's chilling portrayal of the Boleyn family (father, mother, Anne and George). With a few well chosen words and phrases, she's paints them as wildly ambitious, ruthless and pettily cruel individuals, willing to use each other in order to achieve a particular goal. But the authour's characterization of Mary Boleyn was probably the best thing in the novel. Here we see a young and intelligent woman with a heart and a sense of morality that is constantly at war with her feeling of familial obligations. How Mary struggles with this dueling feelings and the decisions she makes -- sometimes good, sometimes bad -- is what makes this novel worth reading.
All in all, I'd say "The Other Boleyn Girl" is a rich and rewarding read.
194 of 227 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2003
The Other Boleyn Girl, is hands down the best piece of historical fiction I have ever read. Upon reading it, I have been searching for other books of its genre and subject matter to delve into.
Gregory made these characters come alive for me, and made me understand how difficult it was to live as a woman in the early 1500s. Mary was especially well crafted. At 13 years old she went from her forced marriage to being thrown into the King's arms as his mistress. The inner struggles she fought between being true to herself and her heart, or true to her family were especially poignant.
Anne Boleyn, the most famous and tragically terminated sister, is portrayed in such a venomous way. She would stop at nothing to get what she wanted, and to rise in power and prestige. In the end it killed her. But her character, as portrayed by Ms. Gregory, was compelling and convincingly ugly, despite her beauty.
King Henry VIII also jumped off the pages. He came off as a spoiled brat, even as he grew older, who always got what he wanted. He and Anne were well matched for each other as no level of deceipt was too high.
Ms. Gregory was brilliant in choosing Mary as the narrator of this book. In doing so, the manipulative and scheming nature of Anne was able to come alive, as was the unorthodox lifestyle chosen by George Boleyn, the brother. The relationship amongst the Boleyn siblings, in and of itself, could fill a novel. The complexities of a family struggling to maintain individual identities, while working to bring the family up to the highest level of stature is intense.
This book is a page turner; it is incredibly compelling, deep and fascinating. I learned a great deal about the monarchy of Henry VII as well as life in the court during that time period. At the same time, I found myself incredibly entertained and saddened when I reached the last page. I cannot wait for more from Ms. Gregory.
72 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2008
I am in my final year of graduate school, about to receive my Master's in History. I bought "TOBG" in an airport in Minnesota, en route to California, hoping for a good vacation book. And sadly, that's all it is. If you're looking for anything serious about the Tudor Era, this is NOT IT. I read this book like one would read the National Enquirer -- scandalized and titillated, intrigued and entertained -- but NOT historically fulfilled. This book is seriously a little bit of minor research into the lives of the Boleyns and the Tudors, and then a huge slog of rumors about Anne Boleyn propegated as truth. What honest history Ms. Gregory leaves in is random and awkward (such as the mention of Anne's dog, Purkoy, which was haphazardly thrown in towards the end, after he was long dead -- only someone who truly had read up on their Tudor history would recognize and understand such an obscure reference). Her writing style is a tad awkward as well. Enjoyable, but awkward.
What saddens me is this latest rash of interest in King Henry VIII and his court, probably spawned by this and the TV show, "The Tudors." People who read Gregory in the hopes of learning more about the era are going to find themselves sadly bereft of any real historical knowledge. If you are really interested in reading about Anne Boleyn, pick up "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" by Alison Weir. Don't be daunted by the length -- it's a really good read, with a lot of factual information. Read Gregory like you would read a tabloid -- for entertainment, without believing a word of it.
56 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2005
My first thought while reading this book was to wonder what the author has against Anne Boleyn. It appears to be quite a lot. It also raised an intriguing question. Does the author have this poor a relationship with her own sister? She must,if she has one, or she would not refer to all such relationships as competative and resentment driven, which is the main of several hammers she continually hits the reader over the head with.
Historically it takes all the wildest accusations of a suspicious and superstitious era toward a woman whose demise was determinedly orchestrated for political purposes, and uses them as the "facts" upon which the story revolves. I was very disappointed in that, and the continual harping of the "other Boleyn girl" Mary about the hate (her word, frequently used) she felt toward her sister. The scene when Anne is due to arrive, (after Mary has fervently wished her to drown in passage) when Mary throws herself into Anne's arms in joyous welcome, is just one example of the discordant elements in these relationships which never become defined and never make any sense.
There are endless inaccuracies and a deliberate disregarding of those few things that are known for certain. Much of the information is still being argued by true historians.It has never been clear for example, which was eldest and no, everyone does not agree that Mary was the eldest herself. That argument continues. I don't have a problem with an author making a suggestion of her own, it can make for interesting contemplation, but not to the degree of sensationalism achieved here. I don't believe there one lurid possibility she didn't include. It becomes just another trashy novel.
And that cute little piece When Mary as a girl, witnesses an execution, with all its heavy handed, and punishingly obvious portents and symbolism, is the first hammer alongside the head
All I can say further is "I'm sorry Anne, for both of us, but at least you didn't have to read the thing. Heaven knows why I did."
96 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2005
The author lost my interest right off the bat when she proclaimed Mary to be the younger Boleyn girl. All historical sources agree that she was the elder daughter. That doesn't really matter to the story, so why not get it right? I was also annoyed by the portrayal of Mary as an innocent young girl when she first met Henry VIII...in fact, she had previously been the mistress of Francois I of France and had been kicked out of the French court for prostitution, which is why she returned to England while Anne remained in France. When Mary arrived at the English Court, an innocent she was NOT. I found the author's portraits of all 3 Boleyn children to be biased in the direction she wanted them to go, as opposed to being realistic based on the historical data available. The author was prone to conveniently leaving out facts that were relevant to the story but did not support her simplistic view of each character. Anyone who has read historical accounts of these characters and times will be severely disappointed in this book. I only hope that the general public does not mistake this book for history.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2008
I couldn't stand this book. Not only does it completely butcher history, it maligns Anne and makes her sister Mary look like a saint (when in fact she had also been a mistress to King Francis of France before coming to Eng. Court). *SPOILERS*: Gregory writes as if the accusations brought up against Anne (adultery, incest and witchcraft) are true (any historian will tell you Henry just wanted to make way for a new wife to bear him sons). *END SPOILERS* Throughout the book I felt that she was really shoving down my throat that "this is definitely a good person" and "this is definitely a bad person." The characters are always very black/white and sinner/saint, ridiculously sweet/innocent and ridiculously conniving/evil (instead of letting each character have their own positives and negatives). No char development or depth. PG tells you who to like instead of letting you decide for yourself.
I think I would actually be able to tolerate/overlook (some of) the inaccuracies if the characters were actually developed and realistic, each having good points as well as flaws instead of them being just "good" and "evil."
The majority of other authors will either (A) stick to the facts and actual events and create their characters and stories AROUND that. Or (b) it will be a completely made up story, set in a certain period with accurate detail as to daily life/events for that period. Or (c) there will be a few actual historical characters around which the story is set, but the story itself is complete fiction (ex Girl With A Pearl Earring). With b and c, the authors flat out tell you the story is fiction. With a, the authors usually write a note if they have left out/ignored a fact, purposely changed something in the story, or whether there are several theories as to what happened (and why they chose to go with whatever reason they ended up writing).
The problem is that Philippa Gregory acts like she's writing A, claims she "sticks to the facts" when she actually ignores the majority of facts and instead of writing her books AROUND them, she writes OVER them (basically she's trying to re-write history). It's extremely frustrating to people who study history, are historians or people who just plain old really enjoy history that this author INSISTS that all of her books are based on fact. In reality she completely ignores the majority of the facts, making her books mere skeletons of history - names, dates, marriages, births and deaths are correct (well, maybe not birthdates in this book, but you get my point), but other than that don't count on the rest of it. In some cases PG even makes up facts (she claims that she's SURE Anne Boleyn is guilty of at least one murder/poisoning, but offers no proof, and I don't think any of today's historians would agree that Anne was a murderer. In fact Historians tend to distance themselves from PG books and PG herself because they don't want to be related to what is clearly utterly false). And Ms. Gregory breaks the first rule of historical research, which is to USE PRIMARY RESOURCES. When she actually does reference sources, they are secondary and usually have not stood up to the test of time or academic debate. If PG admitted that she was changing historical facts to suit her stories, I think people would be more accepting, but unfortunately she claims her books are all Fact based and makes no notes in the text of the actual facts.
82 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2006
I cannot believe so many people love this book, despite that it has been recommended to me by many people.
The first 200 pages read like this...OVER and OVER: As family meetings occur that predictably decide the current course/path to keep the Boleyn throne-happy goals on target, Mary Boleyn continually observes and is continually mystified by the horrible regard her family has for her own feelings. Anne Boleyn is continually portrayed as this one dimensional ambitious snake who is nearly solely behind and guiding Henry vIII's ultimate decision to denouce his marriage (hardly plausible), and every scene about the entire court catering to the king is played over and over in the same predictable manner: We all get that everyone kisses the king's you-know-what. I kept wondering, should I just've skipped a hundred pages?
With such interesting subject matter, better character development wouldve been a good start for the author.
I am in total shock that this book is as loved as it is. Yet again more evidence that people just enjoy the likes of today's manufactured steamy celeb gossip style prose.
77 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2005
Gregory seems to want to take up right where Anne Boleyn's detractors left off and accuse her of the worst possible, and then add on top of that a one-dimensional portrayal in a wildly sensationalist and inaccurate book.
Many of the inaccuracies have already been pointed out. In historical fiction, a little liberty with the facts is fine--how else are we to get into the characters' heads?--but in this case lack of research shows a gaping plot hole: why on earth would Henry drop the younger, fertile sister for the aging one if he was so fixated on having an heir? Evidence is marginal and sketchy at best that George was homosexual (bisexual, perhaps) and it's fairly commonly thought that the incest charges were just to turn public opinion against Anne.
My issue, other than the historical, is that the characters are so flat. We are told, rather than shown, over and over again, that Mary and Anne are rivals; yet Anne switches from slightly shrewish to ungodly annoying at the drop of a hat, with never a swerve into the tender sister Mary supposedly loves.
And what of Anne the Queen? Just as we could dig into the relationship between these two sisters--what Mary thinks of Anne's reign, the implications Anne's Lutheran sympathies have for the Howards/Boleyns--Mary is conveniently distracted by a trite flirtation with William Stafford.
May I recommend Alison Weir for accurate representation of this court?
65 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2004
This woman knows absolutely nothing about the politics Tudor period, and it shows. She has Henry still claiming Katharine as his wife when from the moment the annulment trial was convened her official title in England was Princess Dowager; she has More and Fisher excuted in the wrong order (this is more important than it sounds); Henry Carey was never acknowledged as the king's illegitimate son; she has several wrong dates, birthdates and Catholic/Protestant terms; apparently absolutely nothing else was happening in England outside of the king's bed. Highly soap-opera but not history.
109 of 132 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2007
Let me start off by saying I am a huge fan of Tudor England. I am also a fan of reading, particularly historical fiction. My favorite subject would be, of course, Anne Boleyn, the Boleyn family, and her friends. I heard that The Other Boleyn Girl was chronicling Mary Boleyn, the relatively unknown sister of Anne, and I was undoubtedly excited. I've always thought of Mary as the less succesful sister, the foolish one, who enjoyed the bodily pleasures and failed in her ambitions(there being overwhelming evidence to support this), as opposed to the witty, intelligent, wordly and ambitious Anne who was spirtually adept and not neccisarily a physical being. I, of course have read books where Anne was not all of these and still enjoyed them so don't think my intense admiration for Anne is coloring my review.
Let me start off with the basics; Characterization. Gregory apparently skipped this class-or at least was asleep for the majority of it. All of her characters are two-deminsional-at best. Let's start with the protagonist-Mary. For no reason whatsoever Mary has grown up superior to her family...despite the fact that she had no outside influence to change this. She never mentions a mentor who taught her her values and moral superiority,she is not particularly religious,she merely is better-something that goes intensly against human nature. Mary's intentions are soley good all the time, she just wants to be with her beautiful children and escape her evil family. I suppose her good nature was supposed to leave me on pins and needles just hoping she gets that beautiful happily ever after-in fact, it had the exact opposite effect. I found Mary's troubles superficial in comparision to those around her, the majority of whom where sincerely better people with causes they were dedicated to. Mary was simply self involved to the point of making me nauseous. When her sister gives birth to a girl who is apparently-and innacuratly- unloved whom is apparently her sisters downfall(again, innacurately)-and what is Mary's thought process? She is not concerned for her sister who is now treading down the road to execution, not for the King she once loved who is bitterly dissapointed in the woman he love not being what he expected, and not even for the poor baby girl-but for herself. She tells her husband that she can't believe she's going to have to wait for another pregnancy to "escape". When Jane Seymour is slowly taking Anne's place as Queen at court, and Anne is understandbly saying how much she wishes she was dead, Mary returns with a "Anne that is so horrible". What? What is Anne supposed to feel? Jane certainly wanted Anne dead. No one around her is good enough for Mary, and her morality seemed to grate on my nerves. At one point she threatens suicide to her sister-and I was half hoping she would actually go through with it to end this narcissisticly schreeching, whiny narration.
Anne, I am supposed to gather, was the exact opposite of her wonderful sister. This wonderful, intelligent, witty and albiet ambitious woman is reduced to a pure evil caraciture. There are no limits to her evil, everything about her is cruel, she doesn't hesitate in way before committing the most henious acts, with none of the basic human emotion of regret. Turn to any given page and there is an example of her evilness. There is not one nice thing said about Anne in this book. Even on the eve of her execution she doesn't seem to want to repent anything. Why would Henry literally turn church and state on its head for this woman, one might ask? Good question, and I'm still trying to figure it out. Anne had many, many, many admirers because she was a very attractive, intelligent and generally pleasing being. She may have had moments of cruelty, though so has everyone, but that does not mean they are a one-deminsional harpy with little thought above how she can advance herself. Even though Gregory, I'm gathering, wanted me to hate her, I really only loved her simply becuase she was different than that whiny protagonist.
The other characters are equally unbelievable. Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn were certainly ambitious, but I doubt they were this careless when it came to their children. Ambition does not equal recklessly evil, though I got the feeling that this is what the moral of this story was supposed to be. Henry had no depth whatsoever, and was constantly WHINING! He was King of England, he really need not whine so much. William Stafford is supposed to be the ideal, supportive man who is deeply commited to Mary-for God knows why- and he is basically a characticature. George Boleyn is either doing two things-hanging around his sister's bedchamber or cavorting with his male lover. Katherine of Aragon was-historically speaking-certainly a wronged woman, but I have trouble believing she was so unhumanly saintly. This really isn't the only book that does this-authors who are sympathetic to Katherine tend to make her out-of-this-world Godly. Katherine was a human being, with flaws just like the rest of us-I'd love to see some of them sometime.
Now the laundry list of historical errors:
Mary Boleyn spent many years at the French Court, where she had quite the reputation of being permiscuous(the King of France called her "my English mare" becuase he "rides her so often"), and sent home in disgrace because of it. She was probably the older sister(and five or so years older than this), but if she was not, Anne would probably be three or four years older, becuase Mary would hardly be sleeping around at 11. Mary was Henry's mistress for perhaps two years, and her children were not his. Anne and Henry Percy did not connsummate their engagement-it would have been impossible to break. The Boleyn "family meetings" probably did not happen-Anne and Mary probably both made their way to the King's bed on their own, seeing as how Mary had done it before and Anne staunchly resisted his advances for a year before becoming emotionally-though not physically-involved. Mary probably didn't even consider Katherine of Aragon's feelings-mistresses in Kings were considered common, and if a King did not have one he was considered weak. Mary was hardly cast aside with nothing, she was given all the favors of a royal mistress. Anne's cruelty to Mary Tudor and Katherine has been overexaggerated for hundreds of years-she was indifferent at worst to them both. Fisher and More were executed in that order, how could that not get past an editor? Anne loved Elizabeth fiercly and intensly, and did not neglect her in the wet nurses' chamber, but insisted on breast feeding. Anne's miscarraige of a deformed baby and George's homosexuality were taken directly from Retha Warnicke's biography, which is perfectly fine, but Warnicke's main theory is the discounting of Chapuys as an accurate source, who has been the major source to prove to people that she was evil. She uses undeniable evidence to prove this, and yet Gregory did clearly did not use this, so she either only read the parts that sounded cool to her, or simply skimmed the back. Mary Boleyn was banished from court and then begged for years to be allowed back, she did not make a stealthy escape, and she never comes back, not even when her siblings are rotting in the Tower. Anne was a surpisingly liberal Queen,and saved hundreds upon hundreds from the Inquosition, something Gregory conviently forgets-she also donated thousands of pounds to charity-which is equivalant to millions nowadays. Not one heretic was burned while Anne was Queen, although hunreds were burned before and hundreds after. Anne saved both Catholics and Protestants from the burning post. And for GOD'S SAKE; Anne did not commit incest!!!! She swore "upon the damnation of mine own mortal soul" that she did not, evenwhen she didn't neccisarily have to. No one seriously believes Anne commited adultery, or was a witch, and absolutely no one believes she had sex with her brother. Why does Gregory feel the need to include this? I'm willing to bet the vast majority were hating Anne at this point anyways, so including charges she was certianly innocent of was just plain disrepectful. And there were so many, many more.
After reading all of this, I was naturally inflamed, but after reading the interview in the back I was half ready to hunt Gregory down and accuse her of incest with her brother. She says things like "historians are divided as to whether the charges actually took place" Um...no they are not. I think Gregory is the first person to insist that they could be true in a hundred years. "Anne was not a woman who let morals get in her way" This is a strange sentence, and also patenly false. All of the sources listed in Gregory's "bibliography" have varying degrees of respect for Anne, and Alison Weir clearly does not like her, but even the ones who do not think she was a Godly creature insist that she did have morals and virtues. Gregory also insists "Anne was clearly guilty of one murder" What?! I have no idea what she is talking about here, genuinely no idea. She insists that there is evidence that she tried to poison Fisher. This evidence is a rumour that started contemporarily, in which Anne sent a messanger to him to tell him to avoid Parliment should he become sick. This is a rumor, and Weir is perhaps the only historian who believes it. Gregory says the broad facts of Mary's life are true in the novel-of which they are not. She discounts every other type of fiction and constantly toots her own horn. She says it's perfectly reasonable that Anne would have commited incest with her brother to getting pregnant and that George would be the "obvious choice". It's an odd world when your brother is the obvious choice for getting pregnant. Anne had many admirers who would die for her (Thomas Wyatt "Whoso List to Hunt" for example), and if she were to take a lover(which she didn't) I would say that she had many to chose from. Also, the common knowledge of that time was that women were responsible for miscarraiges and the sex of babies. If she was miscarrying, she would have certainly thought it was her fault, and taking a lover would not help.
I would give it zero stars if I could. Please pass this one up. But if you simply cannot refrain, I suggest buying either Warnicke, Bruce's, or Ive's biography and read it first, just to laugh at how ridiculous Gregory is.