Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday Salon: Review: The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble

I like Margaret Drabble's work. I know next to nothing about Korean history. And I have a ridiculous fascination with royalty. So Drabble's The Red Queen easily caught my interest with only the barest minimum of jacket copy. Taking a fairly unknown, at least in the West, account written by a Crown Princess in eighteenth century Korea and weaving it into a novel, Drabble has written a completely engrossing story in three sections. The first section, narrated by the Crown Princess' ghost, tells the outline of her life. She married the Crown Prince as a child, long before his later mental illness became not only evident but increasingly dangerous and uncontrollable. She tells of her everyday life, sequestered in the palace, surrounded by political enemies and a few friends. Her account of a priviledged woman's life would be interesting enough without her marriage to the Crown Prince but the manueverings that his illness caused the court and his father the King to emply were also terribly interesting. The second section of the book, once the Western reader is conversant in the Crown Princess' life, focuses on Barbara Halliwell, an English academic travelling to South Korea for a conference, and the chosen "emissary" for the Crown Princess' story. Babs reads the princess' diary on her way to the conference and her interest is so piqued that she spends much of her down time (and a bit of the conference time as well) exploring the places connected to the princess. She is accompanied by a Korean doctor she meets and the pre-eminent speaker from her conference, with whom she embarks on a brief affair. The third section shows Babs after the conference is over and all the momentous events of it are long concluded and it details how the Crown Princess' story will be passed along into the future because it is a story that deserves to be told. There is a neat convention that strikes me as particularly Drabble-esque in this last part of the book but you'll have to read it yourself to see what it is. As always in Drabble's novels, the writing is precise and tight and very well done. The links between the three sections are strong and pull the reader along happily. I am thoroughly glad I took the time to read this one last month and recommend it to others who like depth and thoughtful reading in their lives.


  1. Over the years, I've started several books by Margaret Drabble, but for some reason I've never been able to stick with any of them to the end. But I have to say this one does sound interesting, so I might give her another try. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I've never read anything by Margaret Drabble, but this book sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!


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