The Red Queen

The Red Queen

A Transcultural Tragicomedy

Book - 2005
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Random House, Inc.
Two hundred years after being plucked from obscurity to marry the Crown Prince of Korea, the Red Queen doesn’t want her extraordinary existence to be forgotten. Her long and privileged life behind the Korean palace walls was not all it seemed, and the Red Queen (or her ghost) is still desperate to retell her tale.

Dr. Barbara Halliwell, with her own complicated past, seems the perfect envoy – having read the memoirs of the Crown Princess on the plane to Seoul, Barbara has become utterly engrossed in her story. But why has the Red Queen selected Barbara to keep her story alive, and what else does she want from her? As she explores the inner sanctums and the royal courts, Barbara Halliwell begins to feel a strong affinity for everything related to the princess and her mysterious life. After a brief, intense, and ill-fated love affair, she returns to London. Is she ensnared by the events of the past week, of the past two hundred years, or will she pick up her life where she left it?

Set in eighteenth-century Korea and the present day, The Red Queen is a rich, playful, and atmospheric novel about love, about personal and public history, and what it means to be remembered. Beautifully told, ingeniously constructed, this novel reveals Margaret Drabble at her extraordinary best.

Publisher: Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 2005, c2004
ISBN: 9780771029073
Characteristics: 334 p. ; 22 cm


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Feb 04, 2018

I had this on my bookshelf for over four years before I finally decided to read it. As a Korean American who has taught some Korean history, I just wasn't in the mood to read yet more about Korea from a "Western" point of view. So I was pleasantly surprised to find how much the author got right about the history, and how much she could make me care about the ancient heroine.

However, as I was reading, I couldn't help but compare it to People of the Book: A Novel. I thought the structure of that book "worked": it started in the present and alternated with the past, each time going a little deeper. But this had all of the Crown Princess' story, then all of the modern professor's story. The Crown Princess was truly compelling- why would I want to leave her for the professor?

Because Drabble did an excellent job with her. It was slower going, but that's to be expected as the Princess spoke in the first person and the professor's story was told, from the "limited omniscient" (and let's leave it at that). She has more freedom from the princess, but she is, in her own way, just as lonely. Her choices made me cringe- sorry, being a concubine is even less attractive in the modern era than it was in the ancient- but in Drabble's hands I could understand why she made them.

Yes, some of the parallels were too obvious, but some were subtle and touching. I did not like the way the author inserted herself into the story- let's keep that fourth wall up, please- but it felt, in a way, as if she didn't want to let go of the characters and wanted to make sure she helped play as much of a part as she could. It's difficult to find too much fault for that.

Although much happens to both heroines, I believe the "scarlet thread" that goes through both stories is parenthood. We see how horribly wrong it can go, and we see the great lengths which parents will go to in order to protect their children and legacy. That, perhaps, is why this story IS so universal, however the author may have stumbled in certain places.

May 27, 2016

7 out of 10. I enjoyed it, but can see where it would be confusing for some readers - it's not a straight, no-brainer read, so don't pick it up for a weekend at the beach.

Jun 22, 2011

I was able to pull through part one of The Red Queen, part 2 was boring and did not interest me I had to put it down unfinished.

Jun 03, 2008

This book was hard for me to read. I had to come to terms with Drabble's observer /narrator style of writing where there seemed to be little emotion. I did persevere to the end only to see what happened. Drabble did hook me as far as the story of the red queen goes, but did not hook me enough to read another of her books. I suspect there were more levels to the work than what I saw, but I did not want to work at it.

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