Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

It's been brought to my attention (thanks K. Gilligan & Natalie S.) that my book review that I posted on for The Other Boleyn Girl has been plargairsed. You can read it on Needless to say I am not Edson Financial Group! The whole thing is baffling and a little sad -- who would want to pass on someone else's book review of all things as they're own? I mean, it's a book review for goodness sake! Obviously, I'm misssing something here. And while it can be construed as flattering that someone would choose to pass off my work as their own, I'd advise future plagarists to change a few words here and there, a few sentences or two, some phrases -- anything that doesn't scream theft!

I've posted the notorious review in question for others to read. And as you will see, it's a competent review, nothing incredibly wonderful or special about it, which really makes the whole plargarism thing really, really sad.

I had more or less given up reading historical novels when I ran out of books by Jean Plaidy to read. For me, she was one of the truly rare authours (saving Sharon Kay Penman of course) who got the feel, tone and character of her subject matter right. So that I had more or less stopped looking out for new books in this genre to read. And then I saw The Other Boleyn Girl at my local bookstore, and after sampling the first chapter, I realized that I had to buy this book. And I'm awfully glad that I did. What a simply wonderful read!! Phillipa Gregory did a really splendid job of evoking the splendor and turbulence of Henry VIII's court. I also thought that her choice of narrator, Mary Boleyn (the elder of the Boleyn sisters) was an inspired as well. Most historians (and perhaps I've only read the those that espoused this majority view) tend to dismiss Mary as an empty headed good time girl because she was used and cast aside with very little ceremony; and because she never rose as high as her sister, Anne. But you have to wonder: Mary was also the only Boleyn sibling to survive the vicissitudes of Henry VIII's reign, and the fall of the Howard-Boleyn fortunes; she also managed to marry for love (and a happy and lasting marriage it proved to be too) the second time around. So perhaps there was a lot more to the other Boleyn girl than everyone credits?

Gregory's novel opens and closes with two executions -- it begins with the execution of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, and ends with the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. With this rather grim events framing her book, the novel proper starts in 1522, with Anne arrival at the Tudor court, where her elder sister, Mary, is already lady-in-waiting to Henry's wife, Queen Katherine. From the very beginning we see that while there is a bond that ties the Boleyn sisters together, there is also a deep rooted rivalry between them. It is a tense time at court: the queen (already quite a few years older than her husband) has yet to produce a male heir to the throne, and people are beginning to question if the aging queen will ever be able to bear children again. Some of Henry's advisers are even began to gently hint that he should put his Spanish wife aside and look for a younger more fecund wife. In the midst of all this intrigue, Mary soon catches the king's roving eye. Although she is married and still quite loyal to the queen, her family (her ruthless parents as well as her uncle, the powerful and equally ruthless Duke of Howard) decrees that she put her marriage and loyalties aside and cater to the whims of her king. Bedazzled, it doesn't take Mary very long to fall in love with both her golden king and her role as the his 'unofficial' wife. A few years and two royal by-blows later however, Mary is shunted aside when the king begins to loose interest in their relationship and her ambitious family fearful that they will lose all the power that they have gained, throws the more ruthless and seductive sister, Anne at the king's head. From then on Mary, her eyes finally wide open as to how low her family will stoop in order to gain power, watches from the sidelines as her family, led by Anne, begins their high stakes play for the queen's crown. Finally realizing that she can only depend on herself for her own future, Mary is inspired to take a few risks herself in order to gain some measure of happiness and security.

The sheer scope of this novel is gigantic -- there were so many things that were going on both on and off stage and the number of people that were involved in all these shenanigans! So that it was a treat to find that the novel unfolded smoothly and effortlessly, and that Gregory did not drop the ball once. She kept each chapter short and succinct, and yet still managed to give the reader an enthralling and exciting account of what was going on. I also liked the manner in which she depicted all the characters in this novel. From Queen Katherine who was portrayed not only as a loyal and loving wife, but also as an intelligent woman who saw and understood what was going on around her, even as she clung to the hope that the king would recover from his obsession with Anne; to the authour's chilling portrayal of the Boleyn family (father, mother, Anne and George). With a few well chosen words and phrases, she's paints them as wildly ambitious, ruthless and pettily cruel individuals, willing to use each other in order to achieve a particular goal. But the authour's characterization of Mary Boleyn was probably the best thing in the novel. Here we see a young and intelligent woman with a heart and a sense of morality that is constantly at war with her feeling of familial obligations. How Mary struggles with this dueling feelings and the decisions she makes -- sometimes good, sometimes bad -- is what makes this novel worth reading.
All in all, I'd say The Other Boleyn Girl is a rich and rewarding read.

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