THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL
Philippa Gregory

 


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Touchstone, June 2002
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

It is commonly known that King Henry VIII had six wives, and that Anne Boleyn was beheaded, but THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL is a fictionalized historical account of the life of Mary Boleyn. Philippa Gregory, who has a Ph.D. in 18th-century literature, has written a compelling story about Mary, Anne's little known sister.

In this tale, Mary, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon, becomes King Henry's mistress at the age of fourteen. King Henry loves the Queen, but their only living child is a girl and she has become too old to bear any more.

When the King begins a flirtation with Mary, she becomes a pawn of the power-hungry Boleyn family. Married to William Carey, the Boleyns arrange to have her husband paid in lands and titles to look the other way while Mary entertains King Henry. Young Mary falls in love with the King, and eventually bears two children, Catherine and Henry, as a result of their affair. After Henry's birth her unmarried sister Anne lures King Henry away from her, on orders from the Boleyn family.

The family wants a Boleyn girl on the throne of England and since Anne is unmarried they believe she is in a much better position to dethrone the barren Queen Katherine and be crowned the Queen of England. But Anne and the Boleyn family are playing a dangerous game and Mary and her children become caught up in their schemes and intrigues.

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL is written from Mary's point of view. She describes the events that separate England from the Pope's control and lead King Henry to appoint himself the head of the Church of England. Readers are given a ringside seat in the secret meetings of the Boleyn family as they plot their ambitious schemes to unseat a Queen and supplant her with their own kin. We see Anne though Mary's eyes, as she grows into a spiteful and powerful force. Readers also watch Mary as she is transformed from an innocent young bride, to a King's mistress, and finally to a dishonored, but mature woman. The sisterly rivalry is fierce and the lengths the family will go to for ambition are repellent and fascinating. This novel brings to life the moral decay of King Henry's court and paints a dark picture of this period in English history.

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL could easily be divided into two parts. The first covers Mary's life as a King's mistress and the second her struggle to protect her children, rebuild a life after her public affair, and discover a new love all while powerful and perilous events storm around her at court. It's a captivating, evenly paced novel with plenty of suspense, even though readers know some facts of the story from history.

Philippa Gregory has written Anne as Mary's older sister, which is contrary to commonly accepted knowledge, but since their birth dates were never recorded it is not known which sister is oldest. THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL is reportedly being made into a movie by Miramax and Ms. Gregory is said to be working as a consultant on the project. If you enjoy historical tales and deeply engrossing books, this will provide many hours of reading. Ms. Gregory is also the author of THE QUEEN'S FOOL which features the struggle for the throne between Anne Boleyn's daughter, Queen Elizabeth and Katherine of Aragon's daughter Queen Mary.

September 2004

 

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