The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory



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boleynI’m quite an ardent fan of historical fiction, as it allows one to tackle the arduous task of learning boring history whilst simultaneously being entertained.  The Other Boleyn Girl succeeds in one whilst failing somewhat alarmingly at the other.  It’s a very entertaining book, so action-packed that it’s almost like an Elizabethan comic book.  There’s a new intrigue, a new cunning plan, every five pages or so.  Regrettably, The Other Boleyn Girl achieves much of its dramatic tension by relying heavily on rampant speculation.  Amongst them:

  • Mary Boleyn’s children were sired by Henry VIII (really?  no one else seems to think so…Henry acknowledged the paternity of an illegitimate son by Bessie Blount)
  • Anne Boleyn was guilty as charged (very few people believe this)
  • Mary Boleyn never had an affair with the French king (Francis I recalled his mistress Mary Boleyn as “una grandissima ribalda, infame sopra tutti” (“a great prostitute, infamous above all”), and his “English mare.”
  • Mary Boleyn was the youngest of the Boleyn siblings (She was probably the oldest)

Anyway, the bar for this sort of work was set by Robert Graves in I, Claudius.  Graves did something really remarkable in that book:  he told a thrilling story but never deviated too far from what is accepted as history.  That said, The Other Boleyn Girl was a most enjoyable read.

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