The book became a major disappointment for me. I’ve read so many raving reviews about The Other Boleyn Girl, I couldn’t wait to read more about Anne Boleyn and her lesser known sister. I expected a gem of historical fiction, but got more fiction than I’ve ever bargained for and hardly any history at all.
In my opinion the major flaw of this book is that it’s told from Mary Boleyn’s point of view, which considerably limits the scope of events that the author can play with. Mary herself confesses that she isn’t interested in England’s politics, internal or international. Because of that we, as a reader, never experience the great tension that came from constant political juggling with Spain or France – a major force that drove the king’s passion for superiority in Europe. We never really get to see how great of a change the English Reformation was – probably one of the most important events in the country’s history. The key figures that practically shaped the events of the period and played a major role in Henry’s ruling and marriage decisions, – Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey, Bishop Fisher to name a few – are cast aside as episodic characters. Oops, they died, who cares? Cromwell, who? It is understandable that the novel is a story about the two Boleyn sisters, not a history textbook, but all of these mentioned people and affairs were directly connected to Anne and had a lot to do with her rise and demise.
Besides the lack of substance in the plot, I also have a lot of issues with the characters. The two sisters are extremely black and white. While Mary is all that is innocent and wants nothing but to live a peaceful life with her husband and children, Anne spends her days scheming, plotting and poisoning people. Mary is unbelievably selfless and committed, everything she does is meant for good of those around her. She doesn’t need anything, but to live on a farm in the country. I am sorry, but I don’t believe that a girl, who’s been brought up in a court full of intrigues and luxuries since she was four, would even dare to think of such things as being a farmer. I also don’t believe that she is so against plotting for the throne. Girls of that time were used to arranged marriages and considered any chance that would bring them a beneficial match and name to their families.
No matter how much I’ve disliked Anne in the past, I can’t help but feel sorry for her for being portrayed so horribly by Gregory. The author makes her look just pure evil! It seemed that till the very end Anne is ready to use anyone and everyone to get her out of hot water or drag them down with her in case she fails. I don’t believe that Anne didn’t care for her daughter, on the contrary, in reality she did everything she could to secure Elizabeth’s future and to protect her from Henry’s wrath. I don’t think her support of Reformation was based on selfish desire to improve her stature; Anne was a deeply religious person, and she wanted to expose Rome’s corruption for the good of English people. And I find the claim that she committed incest with her brother to be completely ridiculous. Not a single historian believes in validity of these claims, and it is widely accepted that the story was made up to rid Henry of the unwanted marriage. Overall, I think the readers who have never read any history books on Anne would get a very wrong picture of this fascinating woman.