Somehow, author Philippa Gregory manages to take one of the Western world's best known stories, give it a new spin, and make it fresh and appealing. The Other Boleyn Girl is told from the perspective of Anne's (possibly) younger sister, Mary, but is ultimately a finely drawn portrait of a group of people that represent a pivotal moment in Europe's secular and religious history. Despite an enormous stable of characters, the reader never feels overwhelmed or bogged down with inconsequential details. The story is entertaining, informative, fast-paced, sweeping, and peppered with delightful period detail. Through her choice of narrator, Gregory manages to create suspense even though most readers will know very well how the story ends (spoiler alert: Anne Boleyn is not spared), and Mary also often serves as her mouthpiece to discuss the lot of noble women in Tudor society. Occasionally, I found it difficult to believe that Mary (who is often portrayed as the less acute sister) embraced such "feminist" notions as caring for her own babies and marrying for love, but overall I found her to be an engaging narrator.
Another interesting character was that of George Boleyn, who might as well have been "the Other Other Boleyn Girl," as his story was heavily intertwined with Anne's and Mary's. Gregory opts to portray him as a repressed homosexual, which, I gather, is not completely popular among historians. True or not, it does add an interesting dimension to the tale of the three siblings, only one of which sees their way through to a complete and loving relationship, and allows Gregory to give a similar weight to George's character. Despite the nuances of her portrayal of the Boleyns, Henry, and Katherine of Aragon, it is the short scenes and minor characters that give the story its depth, such as a scenes in which the courtiers skillfully contrive to lose games played against Henry VII, or labor at embroidering an enormous altar cloth. For me, the most intriguing thing about the book, after more than 700 pages, was its ability to make me so interested in the subject matter that I wanted to find out what was fact and what fiction.
An interview with Gregory about the book.
Fraser, Antonia. The Wives of Henry VIII
Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VII.