Customer Review

38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I really dislike this book!, 14 May 2010
This review is from: The Other Boleyn Girl (Paperback)
I was really looking forward to this novel. I've always found the Anne Boleyn story fascinating - a prime example of the political and religious shenanigans of one of England's less loveable and more devious monarchs. What I found myself ploughing through was a turgid, unbelievable bodice ripper. What angered me - a lot! - was the turning of poor George Boleyn into a pantomime bisexual stereotype, based on no historical sources that I am aware of. This man will shag anything, including his sister. Anne herself is a sorceress, a born manipulater, seducing the surprisingly naive Henry away from the one who truly loves him, the incredibly saintly Mary. She, for some reason, becomes the younger sister, thus conveniently airbrushing out her own dubious past history. None of this makes sense, except that it seems that Gregory likes Henry and Mary but really has it in for Anne and George.

I can handle manipulating history, if it results in a good read, but this novel is not that. It stereotypes every character involved in a complex historical event. I know the argument is that 'this is a work of fiction that just happens to use historical figures'. Fair enough. But it's been done so much better. Robert Graves's 'I Claudius' is a gripping read; you don't have to agree with his vision of Livia or of Tiberius, but they are glorious, and Tactitus and Suetonius allow those readings to exist. Allan Massie also did something similar with 'Augustus', in which he posits a surprising but credible reason why Octavian wanted to crush Antony. Both manipulate historical sources but conjure up great reads.

I know I am in the vast minority in my opinion, but I am reluctant to give this story even 1 star. There is so much better period fiction out there.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 9 Jun 2010 01:22:06 BDT
Rachel says:
Terrific review - exactly what I thought of this horrid book. There's a bizarre school of thought that history is "boring" so you have to throw in loads of weird sex and ridiculous anachronisms to make it "interesting."

There's no doubt Gregory has it in for Anne: in interviews, the Q&A at the end of the book, and on her own readers' forum, she constantly states AS FACT that Anne "was a very bad person who never let sin or crime stand in her way - she was clearly guilty of at least one murder." On the other hand, her Mary Sue Boleyn is a "heroine." Now we have these pop culture characterisations perpetuating themselves in scholarship - there is one biography of Mary Boleyn already (Josephine Wilkinson - a few pages of facts and a whole lot of filler) which buys into the "Henry VIII's favourite mistress" nonsense (personally, I think his "favourite mistress" would have been Elizabeth Blount, who was the mother of his only son at that stage) and one on its way (courtesy of Alison Weir). On the other hand, countless online discussions, book reviews and blog posts - even those by history students! - have poor Anne described as "selling her sister down the river", "stealing poor Mary's son," "going after her sister's seconds" (which she didn't) and being the most evil scheming schemer from Schemerville in all of Schemedonia (which she wasn't). People even argue that she "could have" slept with her brother, who "could have" been bisexual - "well it's MY OPINION and you can't prove they didn't and he wasn't!" - even though there's not a shred of evidence of either, and if there's no evidence, that's it. Further a) even the Boleyn enemies didn't believe a word of the allegations, and they'd have been ready to believe the worst of Anne and her supporters; and b) if there was a shred of contemporary evidence that George Boleyn had male lovers, you can bet that his enemies would have got as much mileage out of it as possible - Chapuys would have gone into excruciating detail.

I totally agree with your view of George's characterisation here - he is the stereotypical "anything-sexual," something that not only betrays Gregory's lack of knowledge of the period and the personalities (if the real George had been attracted to Weston or Smeaton or whoever, he wouldn't have been so upfront about it - given his strong religious views, if he had fallen for another man, it would no doubt have caused him a great deal of anguish) but a lack of understanding of the complexity of human sexuality and an arguably homophobic bias. The notion Gregory seems to promulgate here, that a man who falls in love with another man (mind you, we're told this, but are never shown it - a constant problem throughout this book) is by definition deviant enough to be sexually attracted to his own sister and act on it, is highly offensive. I'm surprised - although relieved - she didn't make him a paedophile as well, maybe abusing a a ten or eleven year old Mark Smeaton when he first came to court *gag*. It's interesting that Gregory's "good characters" (Henry, Mary B etc) are as straight as they come. That said, I wouldn't be against a novel that did explore the possibility, provided it was respectfully done and didn't resort to cliché.

Despite this, the "IT'S FICTION!!!" brigade seem to be completely oblivious to why it's important to make an effort to get the HISTORICAL part of the FICTION right as much as possible. Even if you manipulate events for the drama, an author should at least try to recreate the period. Also, it makes for a better story - much of Henry VIII's marital sagas you couldn't make up.

Apologies for the long comment - I realise I'm preaching to the converted here!

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Jun 2010 03:26:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 15 Jun 2010 04:28:04 BDT
LJM says:
Long comment much appreciated! To be honest, I wouldn't be totally against a book that posits a 'guilty-as-hell' scenario - I suppose it was, after all, a possibility (albeit extremely remote) - but I do like my historical novels to be well-written, well-structured and based uopn sound research. And I simply can't get over poor George. Personally, I think he was stitched-up rotten by his delightfiul wife, Jane, especially when you consider the latter's eventual downfall over Catherine Howard. You're right that there is an unpleasant whiff of homophobia emanating from George's portrayal. And for a 'feminist', Gregory sure favours a complaisant, compliant, uncomplaining 'heroine'. But how anyone can depict Henry VIII as an almost unwitting dupe in this sorry saga is beyond me. Henry was a vicious, dangerous, intelligent bully, who had almost unlimited power in England - who was going to say 'nay' to him? Ah, well, that's me, ranting again! I do like Alison Weir's fiction, however - I enjoyed both 'Innocent Traitor' and 'The Lady Elizabeth' and she, at least, owns up to her manipulation of the 'facts'. I'm also a big fan of C J Sansom; his personification of Henry VIII in 'Sovereign' is how I imagine him to have been - a complete and utter swine! Cheers...

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jun 2010 07:51:55 BDT
Rachel says:
"To be honest, I wouldn't be totally against a book that posits a 'guilty-as-hell' scenario"
Oh, I agree, so long as it was handled respectfully and the author acknowledged straight out, "this is simply exploring a 'what if' and has no basis in fact." Robert York's "My Lord the Fox" has as its central thesis the possibility that Mark Smeaton fathered Elizabeth (mind you, hard to imagine an intelligent noblewoman in her late twenties to early thirties, who was just about to become queen and was attended at every turn, risking a liaison with a teenage choirboy, but whatever ...) - it's out of print now and I tracked down a used copy. Not a bad read, but not the greatest novel. However it could be done well. So long as there's no incest. I think we've had enough of that.

As I mentioned above, a novel portraying George as gay or bisexual, could be done respectfully and intelligently - for example, George Boleyn was a highly religious man. In this scenario, how would he reconcile his attraction to another man with his religious beliefs? How would he have kept it secret, in an era where people could die for engaging in so-called "unnatural" acts?

And you're so right about not saying "no" to Henry; the "Anne schemed to become queen" crowd completely ignore that fact. Honestly, what was Anne supposed to do? She wasn't prepared to compromise her reputation by becoming a mistress, wasn't even interested in Henry to start with, and arguably backed herself into a corner. Then Henry makes her the offer she can't refuse - the best possible marriage any woman of her class could hope for (and because he telegraphed his interest so blatantly, no eligible man was going to compete with him). Do people seriously think she should have said, "Sorry H, but I'd really prefer to stay just good friends"? As for the often repeated charge that she mistreated Katharine and Mary, let's face it: there is no way anyone could have mistreated or disrespected them unless Henry allowed or encouraged it to happen. If anyone treated Katharine and Mary horribly, it was Henry - in fact he continued to bully Mary, even after Anne died, until she acknowledged her parents' marriage as invalid and Henry as head of the church.

The Sansom novels are truly brilliant, aren't they? I also really liked his depiction of Cromwell in "Dissolution." Weir's first two novels are good - the one about Elizabeth is an example of how a controversial "what if" can be done well - although the most recent one ("Captive Queen") was a real disappointment, unfortunately.

Posted on 15 Aug 2010 00:33:56 BDT
meevagh says:
Thoroughly agree with you. Anyone who loves history ought to.

Posted on 29 Dec 2010 21:51:42 GMT
Skibeaky says:
I would have sworn my mother wrote this review! She and I agree totally with the comments made. Any story involving the Boleyns is dramatic enough without the need to mangle it for the sake of sensationalism.
Oddly though, Gregory's other novels of the same period are much better, so no idea why she felt the need to demonise Anne in this one.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Feb 2011 13:31:17 GMT
KT says:
Couldn't have said it better myself. I prefer Alison Weir books personally, and this one has put me right off Gregory!
She can make Anne Boleyn out to be the most evil woman ever, but anyone who knows there history will agree that she wasn't as bad as that. Yes she was devious ,like so many others, but Mary Boleyn was known as 'the great prostitute' so she clearly isn't whiter than white.

Posted on 10 Mar 2011 14:04:48 GMT
H says:

I'd find it easier to cope with this just as a 'what if' if the characters weren't such terribly one dimensional archetypes. Mary white as snow, Anne a heartless schemer...and Henry VIII a totally unwitting dope. It's the third one that really gets my historical goat! I don't claim to be an expert in the period, but even basic knowledge ought to tell people that for all Henry's faults he wasn't stupid.

Posted on 8 Apr 2011 18:17:44 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Apr 2011 18:18:21 BDT
MustLoveDogs says:
Thank you for your review! I could not agree more!! I enjoy reading historical fiction as well, but unlike this author they note the fact that it is fiction and make note of accurate and non-accurate accounts. Not so with this author, she claims to be an historian and her accounts of this novel are spot on with true historical facts! The unfortunate side is that real people out there who want to know more of this fascinating period in history and the people are going to have false facts, and it really is so unfair to history and the people who lived it!

Posted on 14 Apr 2011 22:11:54 BDT
Excellent Review...The review I am about to post is very similar! I read this book years ago and decided to re-read it last week. Having read a great amount of factual books on the period and alternate historical fiction I agree with everything you say! Also, @Rachel...LOVE "being the most evil scheming schemer from Schemerville in all of Schemedonia". brilliant!!!! Agree with other comments Weir's innocent traitor and lasy elizabeth are good historical fiction and upfront about the alternate history being portrayed.

Posted on 29 Sep 2011 16:41:34 BDT
I have so enjoyed reading this review and the comment thread - thank you all! What fun and better than reading the book (which I haven't yet). I get the impression that the film was better than the book - lovely frocks, and all over in an hour and a half.
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