Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Boleyn Wife

The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy
(Kensington / 0-758-23844-4 / 978-0-758-23844-3 / January 2010 / 384 pages / $16.00 / $10.12 Amazon)

Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

History is not kind to losers, and Lady Rochford, Jane Parker Boleyn, is certainly one of history’s losers. She lost out against her sister-in-law for her husband’s love, and she lost her husband’s life while ingratiating herself to the king and Cromwell. She lost the respect of the Tudor court for her transparent perjury, and she eventually lost her life through her unaccountable involvement with the most foolish Queen ever to grace England’s throne.

Lady Jane, the narrator of Brandy Purdy’s newest novel The Boleyn Wife, is described on the back cover as shy and plain. Personally, I felt that based on this portrayal, better words to describe her would be manipulative and avaricious. Any sympathy I felt for her vanished on Page 29, when Jane’s father expressed misgivings about the proposed match between his daughter and George Boleyn, and Jane flung herself to the floor in a tantrum worthy of a three year-old toddler. Jane’s obsession with George seems ill-advised – they had nothing in common and George never showed anything but disinterest in her. Nevertheless, she desired him in a most obsessive way and resented everyone he truly cared for – most of all, his sister Anne.

In Purdy’s version of the tale, the Boleyn siblings were innocent of physical incest, but strangely connected in spirit. “It was as if they were made to be together and, as blasphemous as it sounds, God had made a mistake when He made them brother and sister so that full passionate love between them was forbidden.” There are few likeable characters in this story, but George Boleyn perhaps comes closest. His devotion to Anne is touching and would have been incredibly romantic – if she hadn’t been his sister – but since she is, it’s slightly creepy. Purdy’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn is a little different from others I have read: I found her dislikeable at first, but more sympathetic as the novel continues, until she reaches full dignity during the trial for her life.

One of the things I like best about Purdy’s writing is her ability to paint clear images with her words. Her style is very visual, and I have always found it a pleasure to read. Take this description of Henry’s infatuation with Anne: “And so it began, the chase, the hunt, that would consume the better part of seven years, shattering and destroying lives, and shaking and tearing the world like a rat in a terrier’s mouth.” How better to describe the manner in which one foolish love affair could forever change the history of religion and world politics? I also enjoy her non-standard approach to familiar characters – an Anne Boleyn who truly despises Henry, a Duke of Norfolk who would wrestle Lady Jane for the privilege of telling bad news to the Queen and provoking a miscarriage, and an Anne of Cleves who was cleverer than anyone suspected.

I had only a few, small reservations about the novel. One of the key aspects of Anne Boleyn’s character is her true love for Harry Percy in the beginning of the book, and yet I was never comfortable with their relationship. Purdy portrays them as opposites, and therefore I would have liked to have seen them together more often, so that I could truly believe in their love. Another is Jane’s propensity for eavesdropping and spying. Don’t get me wrong – I believe she was capable of such sneakiness, but sometimes the convenient availability of keyholes, tapestries, and shrubberies when important events were about to happen strained any credibility. Still, I found The Boleyn Wife to be a very enjoyable novel – for all that, it is full of despicable characters and follows a plotline that would have been completely unbelievable, if it hadn’t really happened!

PODBRAM readers may find special interest in the fact that Brandy Purdy first published this novel independently through iUniverse under the title Vengeance is Mine. It was snapped up by a traditional publisher in under a year, making Purdy one of the many success stories featured on this blog!

See Also: The High Spirits Review
The Confession of Piers Gaveston

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