There can’t really be any spoilers with this book, as it’s at least loosely based on historical fact. King Henry VIII cheats on his first wife, eventually annuls their marriage, marries Anne Boleyn, only to chop off her head a few short years later. Stuff I learned in high school. Henry VIII’s six wives: “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” I always remembered that. For some reason, while most of history bored me in school, the fate of Henry VIII and his wives fascinated me. I haven’t paid the story any attention for a long time, but this book caught my eye awhile back and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.
The events above are played out over the course of fifteen years in The Other Boleyn Girl. They’re told from the point of view of Anne’s sister, Mary. Mary Boleyn has been rather ignored in history compared with her much more famous sister, and Gregory decided to make this a fictional account of her life throughout this time period. Some things in there are fact, some are not, some are disputed. I imagine any historical fiction piece based on a person who left almost no legacy would lead to this same ambiguity. But, accurate or not, this did make fun reading.
I didn’t know, when I picked it up, that a lot of this book would be in the form of romance novels. I’m not a romance novel reader for the most part, and it was intriguing to see the way Gregory tried to set up “romance” scenes without resorting to present-day language. I must admit, after awhile, I got pretty bored. There are a couple hundred pages right in the middle of the book that are the same thing over and over and over again. The book in itself is quite long – 735 pages – and I think it could have done with some sheering. That was my biggest complaint. The beginning third and the ending third were real page-turners, and sucked me into the book enough to want to keep going continuously. Just the middle felt very repetitive. Like Gregory didn’t want to jump through years without saying anything (the book is not set up in chapters, but in season quarters – ie Spring 1522, Summer 1522, etc) but nothing new happened for a few years, so that each season section would last a page or two, and yet they couldn’t be skipped. Quickly six or seven years passed without me realizing it.
My only other real complaint (other than the petty fact that she says “the other Boleyn girl” way too many times in this novel) was that Mary’s character didn’t seem fully thought out. Her stance on the world around her fluctuated without any real reason, not like a real person who might be conflicted but like a fictional character who is created to feel one thing, but then must alter for real life events that occur in the book. I felt more as if she was fit into the story rather than this being her story come to life.
Other than that, it was a fun book, tasteful for the most part, and I did learn things (never heard of the sweating sickness before, for instance), but it was certainly not life-changing or deep in any way. It made me want to go back and read more about Henry VIII and his wives. However, I doubt I’d read others of her novels (she’s got four sequels to this one, I think). There’s also a movie based on this book, which I haven’t seen, and I’m undecided at this point if I’d like to. [Updated: I did watch the movie, and it was fine. Nothing special, but not bad either.]