The Other Boleyn Girl - Review
Two sisters and as unlike each other as can be. One a shy, fair haired girl. The other bold and dark haired. One longed to be in the simplicity of the country side. The other loved the glamour of the court. Mary and Anne Boleyn make interesting characters for a novel. And their ambition to win the heart of a vain and eccentric Henry VIII makes the novel a gripping read.
The novel is told from the viewpoint of Mary who enters the court of Henry as a fourteen year old lady in waiting to Katherine, Queen of England. She catches the eye of the King, whom she learns to love even though she is already married to William Carey. However, she soon realizes that she is a mere pawn in her family’s ambitious plots. The king’s interest wanes and she is forced to step aside for her best friend
and rival - her sister, Anne.
Creating captivating characters
The triumph of this novel is in Gregory’s skillful handing of her brilliant characters - the two sisters, Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, the Duke of Norfolk, Jane Boleyn or even George Boleyn. Each one of them sparkles in their own right. However, Anne’s mysterious character steals the show. Quick witted, temperamental, extraordinarily determined, and almost cruel in her ambition, she is one woman who knew what she wanted and made it against all odds.
At a time when the word ‘divorce’ did not exist, it is she who attempts to think the unthinkable.
She plants the idea in the King’s mind that Katherine was not a virgin when she married him
and therefore, he is not married to her. One is almost forced to think that Henry is a mere puppet in her hands not the King of England.
Whether Anne was still a virgin when she got married to Henry is doubtful. However, in the novel she played Henry VIII till he kept coming and then turned him away till he couldn't bear it.
When Mary is pregnant with Henry’s child her mother says, “Thank God Anne has him in her toils. She plays with him like you might tease the queen’s dog. She has him on a thread” and Anne tells Mary that she is going to “hold out till he sees that he has to make me an offer, a very great offer”.
Pace of the narrative
Despite the gripping plot and interesting characters, Gregory’s hold slackens towards the middle of the novel. The long drawn delay in the annulment of the marriage to Katherine, Anne’s bouts of temper, the successive miscarriages all seem repetitive.
Historical accuracy and creative license
The historical accuracy of a number of facts can also be doubted. Whether Mary was the younger sister or the elder is not sure. Mary is worried about sleeping with the King and says to George and Anne, “I don’t know how to do it… You know, William did it once a week or so, and that in the dark, and quickly done, and I never much liked it. I don’t know what it is I am supposed to do.”
But in truth, Mary was not a naive maid. Before coming to Henry’s court she was in fact a mistress to the King Francis I of France.
Likewise George’s homosexuality and attraction towards Anne is also unclear.
An era comes alive
The book subtly rebukes the sanity of a King who could discard one wife after another on the mere pretext of a male heir. What’s more the reader realizes with growing horror, that being beheaded was as much everyday news at Henry’s court as the weather forecast in today’s world. Gregory beautifully brings forth the beauty of England, and depicts a glamourous and hedonistic court and at the same time bountiful countryside.
When Anne comes to power, Mary finally decides to take her life into her own hands and start a new life with her lover. Little does she know that the sibling’s strife will continue till the time Anne is alive.
The book culminates in a powerful climax with George and Anne being beheaded. Mary continues to live in the countryside with her husband and children. And even though it is Mary who is the heroine of the novel, one remembers little of her afterwards.