Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review Wednesday: Historical Fiction by Phillipa Gregory

About a month ago, Alex and I wandered over to the Mountain View Public Library and we got our first library cards since we were kids. I love, love, love to read and I have a serious book problem. I miss the great used book stores in Philly, and some of my most fond memories as a kid were going to the library with my Grandma. The old Oxnard library (which my mom and my grandma called the "new library") had this amazing dollhouse in the kids section. I loved to sit and look at all the delicate miniatures, and dream about how I would play with all my dolls in such a beautiful house. I was also allowed to check out something crazy, like 15 books at a time. Every week during the summer, Grandma would take me there and I would pick out tons of Nancy Drew and Judy Blume. My favorite past time since I was a kid has been reading. I'm really looking forward to taking little Golack to the library when he gets old enough. I hope he finds as much joy from reading and both me and his father have.
Some of the first books I checked out were a couple by Phillipa Gregory, The Other Queen, The Boleyn Inheritance, and The Other Boleyn Girl. In the past couple weeks, I've read these novels based on the court of Henry VIII in Tudor England. I must admit, I was inspired to read these by a visit with Alex's Aunt Carol in Wisconsin last summer. I love to look at people's bookshelves, and Carol had lots of these historical fiction books, and she seems to love them. For me, I love a book that gives me some historical perspective, especially into the daily lives of people living long ago. These books are fascinating on some level. The Other Boleyn Girl follows Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, who was eventually beheaded after being accused of incest, adultery and witchcraft. Mary was a member of the Tudor Court, and a lover of Henry VIII. She had two children who may or may not have been descendants of Henry VIII. I found this book to be the most tedious of the three that I read, mostly because I think the portrayal of Mary and Anne was incredibly historically inaccurate. Most historians agree that Anne was wrongly accused of incest, witchcraft and adultery, yet she was portrayed in the book as conniving, seeking out anything to get her ahead in the world. It also seems that Mary and Anne were not very close in real life, but the book portrays them as incredibly close throughout their lives. Never the matter, the book is interesting, if only for the glimpse into what life was like back then. I was fascinated by the traditions, the odd way of speaking, the amounts of debauchery everywhere in the court. The politics were interesting, too, although Gregory seems a little light on what policies Henry VIII was actually enacting. If you walk away from the book, just taking the broad brushstrokes, I think it's a quite a fascinating read. It's also quite entertaining and an easy, quick read.
The Boleyn Inheritance follows three women, Anna of Cleves (Henry VIII's fourth wife), Katherine Howard (his fifth wife) and Jane Parker (the wife of George Boleyn - the brother of Anne Boleyn). I found this book to be much more interesting. For one thing, there are three narrators, making things more varied. For another thing, I think this book is much more historically accurate. In the story, Henry seeks a new bride after his third wife dies in childbirth. He's now quite old, impotent and literally rotting. He chooses Anna of Cleves based on a painting, and she is sent to England to become Queen. She arrives and finds Henry to be absolutely gross, but marries him anyway. The marriage lasts maybe 6 months before its annulled due to an inability to consummate the marriage (likely on Henry's part, not Anna's). One of Anna's ladies-in-waiting, Katherine, is chosen as his next wife (she is something like 15 years old). Jane is sent along as a lady in waiting for both Anna and Katherine, and she provides some sort of constant narration throughout the book. Anna is put aside, but not beheaded (thankfully), but Katherine is found to have had relations with several men, including one in King Henry's court, and is beheaded at the Tower, along with Jane. I thought this book was rather well written and fascinating. How could a woman go to marry the King, knowing how insane he was?
The Other Queen takes place during the reign of Elizabeth I (the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn). It follows Mary, Queen of Scots as she is forced to abdicate the Throne of Scotland, and is imprisoned by Elizabeth. This book also has three narrators: Mary, Bess and George (the people who are asked by Elizabeth to imprison Mary). This book was a little bit slower and less interesting than the other two. There are fewer courtly storylines, and mostly it's just about a woman being exiled, treachery, betrayal, and family. I was surprised that my family was always talking about Mary, Queen of Scots, but that she didn't really rule for very long (and she was fiercely Catholic). She was imprisoned for something like 18 years until she was accused of treason and beheaded at the Tower.
If you are looking for interesting, engaging and entertaining historical fiction, then I would say pick up one of these books. Just take them with a grain of salt. It's likely they are not entirely accurate!

1 comment:

  1. I had completely forgotten about that dollhouse! Oh, the Dewey Decimal System...