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Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Other Queen: A Novel It wouldn't be hard to accuse me of building up so much anticipation for the release of 'The Other Queen' that it was doomed to fail from the start. Much in the way 'The Other Boleyn Girl' movie was always going to tick me off - even if I do love Eric Bana. So, I am willing to cop a little of the flack when I say that I've found Gregory's latest and last Tudor novel effort a little disappointing. This was still a great book about the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots, I just felt it wasn't up to her usual high storytelling standards.

I do have a very legitimate reason for 'not feeling it' though and I'll briefly tell you about it here. I never really felt emotionally invested in any of the characters. There are a few reasons this happened and the first I think has much to do with the chapter length. Gregory is writing from three first person perspectives (just like 'The Boleyn Inheritance) however she never devotes more than a three page chapter at a time to each character. Most of the writing is also expository or a reflection of the character's thoughts. While this is good some of the time, the lack of dialogue and action seem to really slow the pace right down and kill the sense of urgency her novels are so famous for.

The other thing I wonder about is where she chose to start the story. It begins with Queen Mary's time under house arrest with Bess of Hardwick and her husband but I felt that it should have started much earlier. Gregory says in her podcast that she fell in love with Bess's character and I think her determination to have Bess as a major character and one of the three perspectives, jeopardised the story. I would much rather have read about the complex and juicy relationship she created between Bothwell and Queen Mary. She says such controversial things about the nature of their intimacies that I am surprised she didn't have the guts to just come out and write about it in detail. It's no good to reflect on the action, a character needs to be imbued by it!

Looking back on the novel that took me a week to read when it should have taken a day I can't help but speculate. Was Gregory contracted to write 6 Tudor novels and she was sick to death of them already? Has she lost some of the bravado I so admire her for and is trying to be a 'serious' writer? Did her publishers release this book so close to the movie because they knew it wasn't her usual best? I can only wonder...

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