Friday, 18 August 2006

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

The Boleyn Inheritance
Philippa Gregory
(HarperCollins €??)

Synopsis: Anne of Cleves arrives in England to marry Henry VIII, and is joined by Jane Boleyn and Katherine Howard. In the two years that follow, two become queen and two meet a tragic fate.

SLOW to start – her editor should have persuaded Philippa Gregory to cut great swathes of this book – this is Henry VIII as a Tudor Stalin, in a court riven with paranoia, and a country destroyed by his rule.

Henry is now far from the ‘handsomest prince in Christendom’ of his youth; now, he’s bloated, immense, diseased, limping, foul of breath and deadly of whim.

In one disastrous moment, the straightforward, intelligent Anne makes the worst mistake any queen expectant might do. Henry staggers in to the room where she’s waiting with her ladies.

He’s in disguise, and when this foul old man rushes up and kisses her with his wet lips and reeking breath, she pushes him away, wipes her mouth and spits.

For a man whose vanity has destroyed the social welfare system that the church had run in England for centuries, and two of whose three queens so far had died under him, this is not a good start.

Anne is in trouble, but it’s nothing like the trouble little Kitty Howard will have. Katherine is just 14, and an airhead who adores dancing, flirting, new clothes and seduction.

Soon enough she’ll be queen herself, displacing Anne; but the very talents that win Henry’s fickle attentions are those that will lead her screaming to the scaffold.

Jane Boleyn is there as Anne’s advisor. She seems so straight, so loving, so gentle – but this is the woman who sent her husband and sister-in-law to their execution with her testimony.

Philippa Gregory, author of the bestselling The Other Boleyn Girl, about the unlucky Boleyn family: Anne and her sister Mary and brother George.

She’s had a run of entertaining books about the Tudor women, but this time she’s lost her storytelling touch, and the book could have been chopped by a third.

Still, it’s entertaining and horrifying, and a taste of that era of immense social change, when what there was of social justice gave way to privilege and greed.

Gregory has constrained herself by telling the story in a series of first-person accounts by Anne, Katherine and Jane, but her touch with Tudor life and values is sure.

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