Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell

When the young Queen Elizabeth I is entrusted with Anne Boleyn's secret diary, she discovers a great deal about the much-maligned mother she never knew. And on learning the truth about her lascivious and despotic father, Henry VIII, she vows never to relinquish control to any man. But this avowal doesn't prevent Elizabeth from pursuing a torrid love affair with her horsemaster, Robin Dudley -- described with near-shocking candor -- as too are Anne's graphic trysts with a very persistent and lustful Henry. Blending a historian's attention to accuracy with a novelist's artful rendering, Maxwell weaves compelling descriptions of court life and devastating portraits of actual people into her naughty, page-turning tale. The result is a masterpiece of historical fiction -- so prophetic of our time that one would think it were ripped from today's headlines.

I heard a lot about the book before reluctantly reading it; its page number was so small (I typically enjoy longer novels) and I'm not such a fan of stories told in the form of diaries, and so it was a long time before The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn found its way to my read-list. I decided to read it for a school project since it was the only Anne Boleyn related book on the list, and after the first few pages I was simply pulled in. Maxwell's book is brilliant; I've always known that the lives of the mother daughter duo, Anne and Elizabeth, had many similarities, and in a lot of ways Elizabeth reflected her martyred mother despite their too-short time together, but everything between them is magnified and brought together to form two breathtaking intersecting stories full of twists, irony and parallels. Neither of them had easy lives and the difficulties Anne experienced and how she went about solving these problems translate perfectly into her daughter's life making for guidance and counsel that guides her most.

What I absolutely adored about this novel was how there was the perfect amount of each side of the story, so that neither made the other fall flat. Anne is an alluring, bold, and headstrong girl, witty, daring and the perfect alchemy of 'chaste lady' and seductive, fun-loving minx; Henry falls instantly and deeply in love with the woman strong enough to be his partner, beautiful enough to be his lover, and despite her warming affections toward him, Anne knows that to fall too passionately for an all-powerful king could be potentially dangerous, and whether he loves her or not she is at his mercy. Her adventurous ups and downs are mirrored by the story of Elizabeth, and the roles are entirely switched: Elizabeth is the twenty-five-year-old, all-powerful Queen of England, but it's a far from glamorous life. In love with her childhood playmate and teenage lover and friend, she aches with heartbreak at the knowledge that it would take the moving of the very Earth to have him her king; he is a married man far from beloved by her people, of a family line infamous for treachery toward the crown... and she is the Queen of England, sought by kings and princes of Europe's greatest powers. Every step she takes is met with harsh judgment and criticism and followed speedily by scandal. She learns quickly that to survive and thrive it will take not simply guidance from the council, but her own fallen mother.

Their tales collide and explode and it's simply masterful. I had no problems with any part of it. Maxwell's The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn is an emotional powerhouse, and it's neither of their stories told like you've ever seen them before. Their characters grow, mature, discover the truth and shape their own destinies as one and it's absolutely breathtaking. I'll always see Anne Boleyn in Elizabeth Tudor's greatest decisions which transformed her into Gloriana, and it's because of this book, unquestionably one of the greatest Anne Boleyn related novels ever written, and one I am begging all Tudor-enthusiasts or simply one looking for a good book, to read. The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn is timeless magic; you're heartless if you don't shed a tear.

Pages: 281
Publisher: Touchstone
Year Published: 1998
Kylie's Rating: ♛♛♛♛♛♛/♛♛♛♛♛ (6/5 Stars)

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