What I've Been Reading: The Other Boleyn Girl

We all know the story of King Henry VIII who married six wives, beheaded two, divorced two, saw one die and left one as a widow. Yeah, really, NBD. Right? And I’m sure more than half of us saw the movie, “The Other Boleyn Girl,” featuring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman.

The movie received mixed reviews. Critics on RottenTomatoes gave it 41%. Some friends said “fantastic drama.” Some said “awful movie.” Some suggested watching the TV series The Tudors, instead.

I personally have NOT seen the movie, and despite the movie’s reviews, I decided to go ahead and give the book a try. Written by Philippa Gregory, “The Other Boleyn Girl” captures the story of two sisters, fighting for King’s love.

First, let’s be real. There is no surprise ending here. Even though it’s a work of fiction, Henry does not miraculously change his mind when it comes to Anne’s beheading. Nor does Katherine of Aragon win back Henry’s love. So we all know what we’re getting into even before reading. After all, it was rather hilarious when we first learned about this once handsome king in history classes in middle school.

The book contains plenty of drama, emotion and love. At times, I was extremely frustrated with Uncle Howard who merely used his female relatives as tools with which he can gain power in the court and with Mary who just could not get over the fact that her being a Boleyn was NOT a good thing for her.

As an uncle, how can you ever say “There’s always another Howard girl?” And Mary, why can’t you see that helping out Uncle Howard because you’re a Boleyn doesn’t do yourself any good?

Nevertheless, through exchanges between Anne Boleyn and Uncle Howard and the relationship between the three Boleyns – Anne, Mary and George – and their parents, I realized ambition and desire can easily overcome love, passion and care even in families.

More importantly, usually family goals outweighed personal interests. You don’t marry for love. Rather, you marry for riches and prestige.

Even more importantly, in Tudor’s court, once you lost King’s favor, you were lost forever. Once you were branded impure, you were never getting married. Once you were accused of treachery, you were dead.

Intense, huh?

Throughout the story, I vicariously lived through the ups and downs in Henry’s court: Queen Katherine’s failure to give Henry a male heir, Anne taking down anyone and everyone to get to the throne, Uncle pushing her to be a King’s whore no matter what, Anne’s coronation (finally), Anne’s failure to give Henry a male heir and her beheading.

In all this madness, the only winner is Henry. As a king, he’s invincible.

If I were to actually live in his court, I don’t think I could have survived a day. All the games played to rise up, all the drama, all the meticulous calculations for marriage. Yeesh!

And fat, ugly, selfish king on top of all this? NO, THANKS.

But just reading about it? It was wonderful. Almost 700 pages long, but not one part was boring or unnecessary. Thanks, Liz, for suggesting this book to me, and now I suggest it to ALL of you. In fact, I’m currently reading another book by Philippa Gregory, The Queen’s Fool.

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