To begin with, this was my first book since finishing the Series of Unfortunate Events and it took me a LONG time to properly disengage myself from Snicket’s amazing series – a long time for me to stop referring to Mary Boleyn as “Not a Baudelaire” – and a long time for me to realize, “Hello, shut up, this story is incredible.” Philipa Gregory has been referred to as one of the best historical fiction writers of her time, and I have to say after reading her novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, which was recently made into a movie, I am agreeing 100%.
Now, it took me half the book to realize that this novel was actually about King Henry VIII and how huge that is – knowing a small portion of the history surrounding this ruler, I became even more intrigued upon this realization and quickly found myself devouring the humongous novel, entering a stage my son will eventually come to know as the “point of no return” – yesterday found me glued on and off to this book, unwilling to put it down for more than an hour at a time, until I finally finished. There were hours I laughed out loud and others where I struggled not to cry bitterly.
This story could be considered grotesque, as it begins with an execution and ends with one, but what fills the heart of this book is stories of love, heartbreak, motherhood and betrayal – at the beginning, Mary Boleyn, the main character is an innocent girl of fourteen, newly married, anxious about having her sister, the other Boleyn, joining her at court and surprised to find she has caught the eye of Henry VIII. Pushed into his bed chambers by her social climbing family, she struggles with falling in love and realizing how worthless and powerful she can be at the same time. When the king’s interests wane, she finds herself easily tossed aside as her sister (who has always been a rival as well as best friend) takes her place as the king’s favorite. The story grows darker, but also more and more fascinating from here on out, with secrets and twists that even history buffs may not anticipate. It ends with a woman very mature for her young age, who defies her family and pursues marriage for love and not advancement, fights for the right to raise her own children and occasionally struggles with the realization that despite their differences, she will always be a true Boleyn girl – with all the deception, deceit, and secrecy that comes with it.
The highlights (despite some being low points) for me, include her experiences as a mother and lover – things that are completely relatable and yet hardly capable of understanding at the same time. Despite the hundreds of years passed, it seems to me that not much has changed – with women still struggling to make names for themselves and yet also struggling to earn the right to raise their own children, nurse their own children, and have a say in their upbringing, all while balancing the art of keeping the eye of their husbands and lovers, indeed, it seems not much has changed, except the type of expectations that keep us from achieving these goals.
Having been raised an only child, I found her relationship to her siblings almost as fascinating as DH’s relationship with his own set of three siblings, while growing to love the characters myself as the book drew on. By the final chapters I felt heartbroken right along with the novel’s heroine and even now, a day later, I find I am not quite ready to put Gregory’s characters to rest. I think there will be a movie theater in my future soon, so that I can see how the big screen will compare to this amazing, incredible masterpiece of a novel – also in my future, a trip to the library to check out the author’s other works – was The Other Boleyn Girl a fluke or one of many masterpieces – we’ll be soon to find out.