Reading these two historical fiction works is like witnessing the scandalous affairs of King Henry VIII unfolding before my very eyes!
Philippa Gregory’s attention to the minutiae of Tudor court life and her lively retelling of the circumstances which drove the Boleyn sisters to rival each other for the King’s favour in The Other Boleyn Girl riveted me from the first to the last page. Told in the first person perspective through Mary Boleyn, the novel spans over 15 years, and takes the reader from Mary’s youth right through to Anne Boleyn’s execution.
Seen through the eyes of Mary, Anne’s fate seems [to] smack of treachery and is simply the results of an over-indulged and slightly mad monarch who will stoop at nothing to gain and then destroy the women who drifted in and out his life. It doesn’t paint Henry VIII in a very flattering light, but then we already learnt that from European history taught in school.
What made this textbook material come alive for me was the author’s attention to the details from court dress and manners to the nuances in interpretation of each flirtatious and meaningful glance, to the minutiae of everyday life in Tudor England. The violent rages, silent anguish, quiet joy and unspoken fear of each character engage me on a deeper emotional level, such that I empathize completely with the heroine. No wonder this is being made into a movie, and I can’t wait to catch it on the big screen.
The Boleyn Inheritance continues about three years after the first Boleyn novel. This time round, the author chose to relate the story through three central characters of the period 1539 to 1542, with the last chapter of Henry’s life told through Anne of Cleves five years later.
I must say the inane and childish thoughts of Katherine Howard drove me nuts, so much so I took to skimming the chapters told in her voice towards the last bit when she was incarcerated in the Tower of London. Anyone who’s read history would have known that she’s the other unfortunate wife who was beheaded by the by-now undoubtedly insane king. I couldn’t say I pity her. She’s such a silly airhead, and a vainglorious material girl who walked into her own death trap with eyes wide shut.
My sympathies lie entirely with Anne of Cleves and her very narrow escape from Madame Guillotine. She’s gracious, cool and kept her wits about her even though she didn’t start off on the right footing with the deluded middle-aged Henry in the grips of an identity crisis.
Of Jane Boleyn, the widow of Mary’s brother George, one would say she fully deserved her fate for her wicked betrayal, although she is to be pitied for her ill feelings of inadequacy and jealousy of George’s relationship with his sisters which led her to do the things she did. Through her eyes, the reader finally understood her misguided motive in colluding with her husband’s enemies in the first book.
So, if you’re in the mood to be entertained by some totally outrageous royalty, these two books are ample proof of Henry’s folly, and highly entertaining reads for a weekend at home.