“There was no question now of who sat at the right hand of the king.”
“The Other Boleyn Girl” is fiction based on Mary Boleyn and told in the first person through her perspective. Keeping in mind that this is a piece of fiction, I have to say that it is definitely one of my favorite tellings about court life. Though it is a lengthy novel to be told in the first person, what with the one-sided point of view, I think that adds to the uniqueness of the story. Mary is the sister of Anne Boleyn, the one most of us know from the history books, and to hear the story told from Mary’s point of view is definitely… intriguing.
The writing was easy to read and the way Mary views the other characters is like reading a diary of someone telling the reader one-sided opinions of other famous people. It’s gloriously engaging! Philippa Gregory is an amazing storyteller, and though there are many historical inconsistencies, if this wasn’t based on actual people and just written with any other character names, it would be equally engaging.
As for the content of the book, well, it shows that the same issues of adultery and divorce existed back then, just as they do now, and in fact, the book shows how, because of Henry and Anne, divorce became acceptable in modern day society. For better or for worse, lead-by-example is a powerful concept, and when our leaders bring certain behaviors into the mainstream, everyday lives of those around them, it then allows for an adjustment of what’s acceptable to the majority. What seemed scandalous back then has now become ordinary.
But adultery and divorce were just two of the themes driving the plot of this novel. Greed and power contributed to the motivations of the characters, and Mary – as the narrator of the story – did an excellent job documenting her views on the king (spoiled and selfish) and Anne (conniving and sly). I found myself caught up in the extremes with which a family would go to land in a position of power, and I questioned the believability of the power one teenager – Anne – could indeed have over a married man – Henry.
When askedwhat things people were saying about Anne, Mary says, “That she is a witch and has enchanted the king by sorcery. That she is a murderess and would poison the queen if she could.” The way Mary talks about Anne in the novel clearly shows she has nothing but disdain or perhaps jealousy toward her sister. Mary acts the victim, and my sympathies do go out to her.
But then something else happened. I found that I was cheering for the girls in the novel. Both sisters may have been portrayed as pawns to their family’s greed, but they were, according to Mary’s point of view, smart enough and witty enough to engage a king! It’s obvious the author sides with Mary, the other Boleyn girl, but in doing so, she captures the dichotomy of the girls: Mary, in love and wanting to please the king, and Anne, scheming for her own greedy profit. But both were young and living in a time when they were able to make the most of their situations. Both girls had to survive, and even though this book portrays Anne as a terrible person, what the author did with a slice of history is to create a truly engaging novel.
What do you think? Are you able to read a novel based on a slice of history and distorted to created a compelling piece of fiction? What authors have you read that employ this same historical fiction device?
As always, thanks for your time!
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Marisa Cleveland loves to laugh, hates to cry, and does both often. She has a master’s degree from George Mason University and joined The Seymour Agency after she ended an eight-year career teaching students language arts, grades 6-12. Previous to teaching, she worked as an assistant director for a graduate school in Washington, D.C., before settling in Southwest Florida over a decade ago. As a former gymnast, cheerleader, and dancer, she understands the importance of balance, and she encourages everyone to stay flexible. Cleveland is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum, and she loves connecting with other readers through social media. Though she’s a painfully private introvert, she can be reached through her website: www.marisacleveland.com or follow her journey on Twitter: @marisacleveland.