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Anne of Hollywood by Carol Wolper (2012)

August 4, 2012

The most surprising thing about this novel is that it took so long for someone to write it – for all of the declarations from historians and novelists about how strangely modern Anne Boleyn can seem, as far as I know it’s the first full-scale modern re-imagining of her story. The setting is appropriate — the idea of Henry Tudor, Hollywood mogul, feels right on the face of it. Obviously, a few things have to be updated and quite a few more left out altogether or changed substantially – after all, if Henry Tudor, King of England, beheads his wife, the result is that life goes on for him pretty much as before except that now people run to do his bidding even faster and try to avoid making eye contact. If Henry Tudor, King of Hollywood, beheads his wife, he gets arrested and tried in an eight-ring circus lasting roughly five years and thirty-five covers of People magazine, including the inevitable headline FALL OF THE HOUSE OF TUDOR. (“Henry Tudor once spent his days golfing with business associates at historic St. Andrews Golf Course, holding top secret business meetings at his luxurious beachfront home in Santa Monica, or just getting away from it all at his palatial retreat, Whitehall. Now he spends his days in a cell sixteen by ten feet, shared with three other inmates, where the sun beats down hard in the afternoon and the world of first nights and private airplanes is immeasurably distant.”) So, what happens instead?

Anne Boleyn, daughter of successful but ultimately disappointed Hollywood lawyer, is an aspiring writer (well, it’s a bit different from working in publishing) living in the unfashionable 90212 area code. One evening she bumps into Hollywood hot-shot Henry Tudor at a party to which she was invited because she’s related to Mary Boleyn, a former starlet (and Henry’s former girlfriend) who’s fading from the scene but still has some name recognition left. Much to her own surprise, Anne catches the recently-separated Henry’s attention and he starts pursuing her; she surprises him by not being all over him like the assorted blondes he’s already met at the party, and so he steps up his pursuit. This development is followed with interest by Theresa Cromwell, a lawyer who’s one of the VPs of Henry’s company, but she’s not the only one taking notice – Jake Winslow, a private detective, is following them around and reporting back to Catherine Aragon Tudor, Henry’s ex-wife, and her father, financial magnate Ferdinand Aragon. They’re especially interested in Henry’s activities because he’s considering a run for Governor of California, and a gubernatorial candidate can’t have too messy a romantic life. Catherine, alas, has been reduced to a shrill, unwilling ex-wife (Ferdinand has to explain the realities of no-fault divorce to her multiple times) who sleeps until noon and has a pill addiction. Her daughter Maren is away at boarding school and hates all of her dad’s girlfriends on principle. Such is the nature of this kind of update – the religious developments are totally gone and the political ones have had the stakes downgraded a good bit. Most of the people in this drama have some or most of their considerable wealth invested with Carl Wolsey, a funds manager who’s gotten great returns which, post-Madoff, are starting to look a little too great.

Once Henry and Anne get married, they start having even more problems with Maren, who’s seldom at the house and makes it clear that Anne will never be an acceptable relative. Anne is also trying to deal with George Boleyn’s jealous and bored wife, Lacy Rochford, who’s writing gossip columns dropping a lot of hints about husbands who ignore their wives in favor of their sisters, and one Wyatt, a parking valet who’s been smitten by Anne and who is also looking for a record deal. None of these things are fatal in themselves, but combined with Theresa Cromwell’s developing fears that Anne will try to nose her out of Henry’s philanthropy division, along with Theresa’s willingness to play dirty pool with her gossip website and bribing a few key people, they prove to be Anne’s undoing.

SEX OR POLITICS? Sex. Even Theresa Cromwell is having an affair with someone. The politics are all purely internal and mostly have to do with Anne and Theresa’s struggles over some charities, and Theresa’s eventual nudging out of Anne in her fear that she (Theresa) will be fired.

WHEN BORN? This is one of those fifteen minutes into the future books – Anne and Henry get together at a New Year’s Eve party in 2012, complete with jokes about the Mayan Calendar not getting it right after all, and split up in 2016. She seems to be in her mid-twenties at the beginning, so let’s say, oh, 1987 or so? Mary is older and George younger, but nobody’s age is specifically stated.

THE EARLY LOVE Henry Percy’s equivalent, never named, is a young up-and-coming lawyer who was also a client of Carl Wolsey’s – Wolsey decided that said young lawyer could do better and lured him away with a model-turned-actress who was also one of Wolsey’s clients. Anne still feels some bitterness, and rejoices when Wolsey is eventually busted for financial fraud and is shown doing a perp walk on the six o’clock news.

THE QUEEN’S BEES Not too many – she’s light on female friends in general, and unlike the original Anne she isn’t obliged to have them around to serve her. She visits Mary sometimes, and closes her eyes to Larissa, Henry’s no-strings-attached blonde. She does have an ex-model friend named Angela whom she invites over for a three-way in order to spice things up when she senses that Henry is losing interest in her. Lacy Rochford is around a lot, mostly trying to keep George’s attention off of Anne. Jane Seymour is a wealthy socialite from San Francisco who has a hobby career in jewelry designing and a family with a lot of political power, which does not go unnoticed by Theresa Cromwell when considering how best to help Henry in his run for Governor.

THE FAITHFUL SERVITOR: Catherine Aragon has a maid named Carmen who cleans, cooks, straightens Catherine up and reassures her that she’s still beautiful while keeping one eye on Telemundo. (Why is it that so many fictional maids are named Carmen, anyway?)

THE PROPHECY “Maybe I won’t end up ruling the world like I once thought I would,” says Anne, but “Even if I don’t, who knows, maybe my daughter will.” Of course, she refers to the sort of rule that the King of Hollywood might engage in, which is to say that Elizabeth might grow up to run several movie studios or a social networking company.

IT’S A GIRL! Anne finds out that her “Edward” is actually Elizabeth during an ultrasound, and is shocked – she’d taken it for granted that it was a boy. She doesn’t tell Henry, and when the baby comes, “He never showed any outside disappointment at fathering a daughter, not a son, but I have a feeling that had I given him a boy he might have suggested a fireworks display in celebration.”

DO YOU HAVE SIX FINGERS ON YOUR RIGHT HAND? No.

FAMILY AFFAIRS: Thomas Boleyn is a lawyer who’s been pretty successful but never really broken into the top circles like he hoped – until, of course, Anne Boleyn becomes Anne Tudor. Elizabeth is as ambitious as Thomas, largely ignoring Mary now that her moment has passed and concentrating on Anne and, of course, George – the latter is recently out of college and trying to get into television acting. George has an annoyingly clingy but well-connected and moneyed girlfriend, Lacy Rochford, and an awful lot of pictures of a guy who is really truly just a friend on his cellphone. Once rumors get started that George might be, well, Bi George, his parents lean on him to propose to Lacy so they can have a big wedding and George’s straightness can be firmly established for the benefit of anyone watching him on television. This he does, but Lacy quickly becomes unhappy since she thinks he’s ignoring her (which he is) and as she also has too much time on her hands thanks to being moneyed, she’s happy to start writing gossip columns for Theresa, eventually with dire results for both Anne and George.

DID SHE OR DIDN’T SHE? She makes out with Wyatt a bit towards the end when it’s clear that Henry is done, but that’s it.

WRITERS OF THE PURPLE PAGE: This is the kind of book which tries for a contemporary sound by throwing in every fleeting reference you can imagine: someone’s hair makes him look like Maddox Jolie-Pitt, another man is “like a combination of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in The Wedding Crashers, the “first lady of France, Carla Bruni” is referenced (in 2013 – oops), and so forth. There are people who like this and people who don’t – the real problem with it here was that although most of this book was taking place two or three years into the future, for obvious reasons no celebrity references dated from beyond early 2012. As it was, I couldn’t help thinking that Henry and Anne’s divorce couldn’t hold a candle to, say, Tom and Katie’s oddly unmentioned one.

I did like some of the character descriptions, though. I especially enjoyed Theresa Cromwell’s constant strategizing to make herself indispensable to Henry (she knows he’ll never fall in love with her, so she’s using the professional route) and how Lacy Rochford takes Theresa’s bait. “When Theresa was courting a friendship with someone she’d flatter them by saying, `Darling, you must write something for us.’ Usually the person was so flattered they didn’t even think about the fact that they were providing Theresa content for free…. [Lacy] had a husband who was getting paid decent money on his TV show and she had family money for backup. What she didn’t have was her own identity and she was frantically searching for one. She was like a plane, circling, running out of fuel, desperately searching for a place to land. More and more these days people like Lacy were landing on the internet.” I’m being entirely serious when I say that Lacy is about the most plausible Evil Lady Rochford I’ve read, as in, I could believe in this woman’s behavior without having to hang half of the DSM-IV on her.

ERRATA Not really applicable in this instance. The only thing that really made me lift an eyebrow was a mention of Henry’s Yahoo mail account. Henry Tudor is, among many other things, a coding genius who designed a coyly unnamed Google equivalent (“If you’ve ever used a search engine, chances are it was Henry’s.”) It’s hard to imagine this guy still using Yahoo mail, unless of course the search engine he wrote was Yahoo’s, but it hardly rises to the level of an error. It was just disconcerting.

WORTH A READ? This is definitely another in the category of “People who like this sort of thing will find this to be the sort of thing they like.” If you like Hollywood fluff novels with lots of real names thrown in a la Gigi Levangie Grazer and you’re also a Tudorphile, you’re going to love it. If you’re into one or the other but not both, well, it’ll be all right. There were updates I really enjoyed – Theresa Cromwell the insecure VP, the travails of Anne’s father as he attempts to climb up through the Hollywood lawyering ranks, Mary Boleyn’s politically embarrassing transformation into a pot legalization activist just as Henry’s campaign is getting going, the constant backbiting and looking for advantage among supposed friends – these parallels really worked. Where the book really falls down is with poor Catherine Aragon, who’s been reduced to a pill-popping whiner undergoing a crisis-driven return to religion and writing relationship articles for the Huffington Post. I think the trouble here is that Catherine and Mary Tudor’s story is too big for the celebrity fluff genre. In order to make Henry’s conduct non-jailworthy, his treatment of Catherine and Maren has basically been reduced to leaving Catherine in a mid-life crisis and paying for Maren to go to boarding school. He never shuts either of them up anywhere, forbids contact or tries to completely disinherit Maren on the grounds of illegitimacy, because then he’d be the sort of character who simply does not live in a fluff novel.

But really, though, neither were any of the other people who are reinvented here. Wolsey, who once had a real prospect of becoming Pope, is essentially a second Bernie Madoff – news today, news tomorrow, forgotten in prison next year. Mary Tudor’s health and soul-scarring determination not to be relegated to bastardy becomes the whining of a spoiled teenager who’s upset that Dad got married again even though the new wife had nothing to do with her parents separating. Anne Boleyn’s determination to remake the religious face of England becomes a wealthy housewife’s laudable but hardly unique quest to be more involved in her husband’s company’s philanthropic efforts. So far from being “her that did set the country in a roar”, this Anne probably couldn’t even set TMZ in a roar for more than ten minutes. This Anne’s story is hardly unique – which is just what’s wrong with it.

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3 Comments
  1. Annalucia permalink

    Sheesh – I may have to go to a bookstore and flip through this one, just to find out how it ends.
    Presumably she’s not beheaded, but – what? Killed in a car crash like Princess Di? Dead of an “accidental” drug-and-booze overdose? Does she do a Robert Maxwell and take a header off
    somebody’s yacht? … maybe I don’t want to know, after all.

    Your description of the Lacy Rochford portrayal sounds as though it could be seriously terrifying. You’ve heard the expression, “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity,” but stupid AND malicious together is going to be lethal to a whole lot of people.

    • sonetka permalink

      Nothing that interesting, I’m afraid — she just ends up divorced and broke and starting over. That’s part of what I was thinking about when saying that I think the fluffy, name-dropping chick lit genre limited the author somewhat — in that genre, you simply can’t have the protagonist get murdered, though it would have made the story much stronger in my opinion — after all, in the sixteenth century, getting an inconvenient marriage annulled wasn’t a big deal, but having a wife beheaded certainly made the rest of Europe take a step back in shock. And there’s even precedent for the Wealthy Technological Whiz Murders Wife storyline — look up Hans Reiser some time. Of course, he was caught, but make the 21st century Henry Tudor a little smarter and he needn’t be.

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