Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The Other Queen by Phillipa Gregory
Using the multiple-viewpoint technique that worked well in The Boleyn Inheritance (2006), Gregory fictionalizes a little-explored episode in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. In 1568, after fleeing rebellious Scottish lords, Mary is placed into the custody of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife, Bess of Hardwick. This turns their Derbyshire estate into a hotbed of intrigue and possible treason. George, normally loyal to a fault, falls in love with Mary; Bess secretly reports to William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, while fretting about her foolish husband and the continual draining of their funds; Mary plays them against one another while plotting to escape, with Cecil noting her every move. Gregory skillfully evokes the suspenseful atmosphere—it was never certain that the 1569 Rising of the North in favor of Catholic Mary would fail—but the protagonists’ inner thoughts, as presented in short alternating chapters, are unnecessarily repetitive. Although this isn’t her best work, Gregory’s writing is sharpest toward the end, as the unavoidable consequences of Mary’s long imprisonment are finally felt by all.
I love all things Gregory and all things Tudor so was very excited to borrow this book from the library in a delicious hardback format. There is something quite special for me of reading a book in library hardback with rough edged pages and thick paper.
Did I love this book, well no, certainly not as much as her other novels. Did I enjoy it, well yes, but I always enjoy her writing and she always seems very well researched and credible. The short chapters helped me get through this book quickly as it was so easy to "just read one more" before going off to carry out a chore or wake the baby. So my recommendations is to read if you are a fan of the author in general but do not pick this one as the first ever book to read from her (my personal recommendation for first book would be The Constant Princess).
It also got me thinking about the accuracy of history books. With the many references to falsified information in this book, I wonder how we actually know which accounts of history were true and which were made up. My husband had an interesting response when I posed this question to him - "History is always written by the victors" - which is so true as it is their accounts of events that will always remain on record. Just some food for thought. Xx