Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses a Head!

Our book club is reading The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory this month. The size concerned me a bit (661 pages) so I started it immediately after our last meeting to be sure I had plenty of time to read it. I needn’t have worried.. it is a very fast, easy read. I devoured it in less than a week. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about the book and the characters, and would try to finish whatever I was doing quickly so I could get back to it.

You might expect a book of this size to have lulls or slow parts. It doesn’t. The editing is tight, and the tension builds throughout. An absorbing page-turner; I could not wait to see what would come next.

There are those who don’t care for historical fiction because the outcome is a forgone conclusion.. the ending a certainty. For me, this was not an issue, as I knew very little about the 16th century English court or the reign of the spoiled tyrant, Henry VIII (aside from the playground song, “I am Henery the 8th I am!”). In this case, ignorance is bliss. I liked not knowing what would happen.

Framed by two executions, this novel reads like a 16th century soap opera, full of scandal, danger, murder, ambition, greed, opulence, sex, incest, and more. The Other Boleyn Girl is told from the perspective of Mary Boleyn, the lesser known sister of Anne Boleyn, one of King Henry VIII’s six wives. Taking sibling rivalry to new heights, it tells the tale of two sisters vying for the attentions of the king, and a fiercely ambitious family who sacrificed their daughters in order to find favor, wealth and power.

Mary comes to court as a young girl. Married to William Carey at age 12, she soon catches the eye of the king. She is then ordered by her family to leave Carey’s bed to become the king’s mistress in the hope that their affair will yield land, riches, and power for the Howard/Boleyns. An obedient daughter, she sets aside her own life and desires and does as she is told. After several years and two illegitimate children, the king’s interest begins to wane. The more ambitious sister, Anne, is thrown into his path, and Mary falls from favor. The madness that is Anne’s exhaustive pursuit of the king takes over. Anne, using Mary and their brother George, will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She creates a situation with Queen Katherine that seals her own fate years later.

The historical detail is flawless and the research extensive. It was fascinating to learn about the way people lived, the inequality of English society (from deep poverty to amazing wealth), the expectations of women (proper language, proper manners, the ability to speak several languages, fine domestic arts), the small daily rituals and the use of household items like lice combs (yes, lice, even among the highest levels of society).

There are so many great passages in this book. When I read for my book club, I highlight quotes that I might want to refer back to during our meetings. I did a lot of highlighting in The Other Boleyn Girl! One of my favorite lines is a simile about the excesses of the court, found on page 54:

“There was a trail of extravagance and dishonesty and waste that followed the king round the country like slime behind a snail.”

Such vivid imagery! I was impressed by Ms. Gregory’s writing, the way she handled the complexities of the characters and the seamless blending of fact and fiction. This is an enthralling novel, one I would highly recommend.

You can check out Philippa Gregory’s website HERE

For information about the upcoming movie, starring Scarlett Johansson as Mary, Natalie Portman as Anne, and Eric Bana as Henry VIII, click HERE

You can see our book club’s other selections HERE

20 Responses

  1. Oh wow! I hadn’t heard a movie was already in the works! Natalie Portman as Anne? Hmmm. I am enjoying this book very much. I am half way through – just about to that point where you said “Anne creates a situation that seals her fate…” Yes, quick easy enthralling read! I do enjoy historical fiction.

  2. Yes, I can’t wait for the movie. It comes out in February. I think the casting is inspired! Should be great!

  3. This was one of my favorite reads of 2007 – great review!

  4. I’m heading to the bookstore today to buy this book ~ it sounds great and I’m going to be “laid up” for a few days, so I need a good read. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. I like historical fiction and also stories set in England in the earlier centuries. This book sounds really interesting. I’ll certainly put it up on my list of books to read!

  6. Your reviewing talents far surpass mine!

  7. Patti, I’ll be anxious to see what you think!

  8. Hey! I read your comment on my blog and hopped on over here…and much to my surprise you read The Other Boleyn Girl! That’s one of my favorite Philippa Gregory novels! I like all of her books; she does a really good job of putting in as much fact as she can and then filling it in from there.

    My book club just finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and before that we read We Need to Talk About Kevin. Both good book club books.

  9. Hey Trish,

    Thanks for stopping by. Which blog is yours? Your comment didn’t leave a link. I LOVED The Other Boleyn Girl so much and can’t wait to discuss it with my book club on Dec. 2. I read The Road last spring on my own, and 3 others in my club have read it. I found it so bleak and pointless. Not one of my faves this year. We Need to Talk About Kevin is sitting here waiting to be read. I bought it last week after having several people recommend it to me. I’m going to start it after the book I’m currently reading (Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl). Thanks again for hopping over!

  10. It was such a good book, that I even knew how it ended for Anne, and still couldn’t put it down. I also devoured it in a weekend. Devoured is an excellent word for this book. I am watching The Tudors on TV (CBC) and I think I am enjoying it mostly because of this book.
    Great review.

  11. […] 17 November, 2007 by Patti Thanks to Books on the Brain, I had a great book to read this week while under house arrest recovering ~ The Other Boleyn Girl […]

  12. […] The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory […]

  13. I loved this book – it prompted me to read several more of her titles. I went to the movies the other night and they played the trailer for The Other Boleyn Girl. I can’t wait for it to come out next month!

  14. Hi Kristen, thanks for stopping by! My book club met last night and decided to do our first ever Movie Night to see TOBG on March 8th (it comes out the weekend before, so hopefully it won’t be too crowded). I can’t wait! Since reading the book, I’ve become a fan of The Tudors, which is a Showtime program. You meet Anne and Mary Boleyn in the first episode. I got disc 1 (the first 3 episodes) through Netflix, and it’s awesome.

  15. I loved this book when I read it last year… can’t wait for the movie. I’m going to add you to my blogroll, I have a book review blog as well.🙂

  16. I loved this book, I’m not usually into historical fiction but it was amazing i would read it again in a heartbeat

  17. I am a HUGE historical fiction fan! I have read all of Philippa Gregory’s books and enjoyed them. For a really unknown story of the Tudor era, try Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir. It is her first novel, as she is an historian who usually writes non-fiction.

  18. […] Book Review with the most hits:  The Other Boleyn Girl […]

  19. This is one of my favorite novels to reread, and your review has definitely made me want to do just that! *dies* Anywho, I went into the novel knowing exactly what would happen (nerdy history major here), but it did not affect my enjoyment of the novel in any way. Sure there are fact-related discrepancies ToBG, but I think Philippa Gregory was more focused on making sure the book was an engaging read. (That was completely fine with me.) So, yeah, it was because of this book that I read everything PG puts out now. But I seem to have fallen behind… *ponders*

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