I finished reading The Other Boleyn Girl, though my version of the novel wasn’t listed as a movie tie-in. In fact, I hadn’t realized that it was a movie AND a BBC mini-series until that point. So I’ve thrown those two on my Netflix queue, even though I admit to some doubt about the movie. I just can’t imagine Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn. I just can’t see her reaching that level of self-serving bitchiness, but I’ll find out eventually.
Anyway, I don’t normally like historical fiction, but I thought this one was good. If nothing else, it kept me up for a couple hours last night and Friday night, because I just kept reading until I couldn’t stay awake any longer. For all that you go in mostly knowing how it’s going to end (at least for Anne) the benefit of the narrator being a less well-known historical figure is that you don’t know how her story will end. And the writing is compelling as well.
What I actually thought was the most well-executed was the relationship between Anne and her sister Mary, who narrates that novel. I think the author captured a very interesting emotional dynamic – how the sisters depend on each other, love each other, and at the same time are rivals. The love between the the sisters is always colored by distrust and hatred.
The other interesting point that the book emphasizes is the way that Henry VIII’s divorce affected the position of all women – at least noblewomen – in the country. It’s an interesting point, particularly when the power dynamic started out as incredibly uneven. The point presented by the book was that the divorce really destroyed the only protection even the most faithful wife might have. I feel like Philippa Gregory was perhaps trying to examine the role of women (or, more particularly, noblewomen) during that time period because it’s something that often gets glossed over when Henry VIII’s many wives are talked about. And she certainly makes an effort to explain why women were fighting to capture his interest even when being Queen seemed like a scary job.
After I finished the book, I picked up my British History text and re-read the section about Henry VIII (and his children as well, just because I felt like continuing on) and I think that the broad historical points were represented accurately. The finer ones – like the life of Mary Boleyn – isn’t something that I can speak on.
When I’ve finished a book, I’ve been trying to think about what I like about it and what I didn’t like, because I’m hoping that it will inform my own efforts at writing. I’ve already covered what I liked – the complex relationship is definitely number one in my book.
What I didn’t like has more to do with the writing style than anything else. I actually liked how short the author kept some of the scenes – they weren’t any longer than they needed to be, and kept the complex story moving without bogging things down. However, I think at some points the author also over-emphasized certain things. For example, Mary butting heads with Anne over her son was something that came up a little more often than it really needed to, I think, particularly because it was effectively the same scene and conversation each time. Like, just in case we forgot, Anne likes pushing Mary’s buttons and making her miserable and is using a child to do so. Also, I was very, very tired of the phrase “the other Boleyn girl” by the end of the novel.
It was an enjoyable read, but I don’t think I’m likely to pick up any of the author’s other books. I looked at some of them on Amazon and the summaries didn’t seem all that appealing, and I’m not really that in to historical fiction or romantic fiction to begin with.