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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Fear and violence, boredom and elegant inertia."
Intending to write a "transcultural tragicomedy," Margaret Drabble announces that this novel will ask questions "about the nature of survival, and about the possibility of the existence of universal transcultural human characteristics." Using the real memoirs of 18th century Korean Crown Princess Hyegyong as the inspiration for her novel, Drabble creates her own version...
Published on 24 Nov 2004 by Mary Whipple

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2.0 out of 5 stars A Horrible History would be preferable
From a purely personal point of view I hated this book - I cannot pretend that it is not well written but I don't like the style. It is written in two halves, the first being a Drabble version of a genuine historical document: an ancient autobiography written by a sad and lonely, but brave, North Korean queen. I would far rather have read the original than this tweaked...
Published 1 month ago by Book fiend


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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Fear and violence, boredom and elegant inertia.", 24 Nov 2004
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Red Queen (Hardcover)
Intending to write a "transcultural tragicomedy," Margaret Drabble announces that this novel will ask questions "about the nature of survival, and about the possibility of the existence of universal transcultural human characteristics." Using the real memoirs of 18th century Korean Crown Princess Hyegyong as the inspiration for her novel, Drabble creates her own version of these memoirs, placing them within the context of world history by relating them to what was happening in western civilization at the same time.
Chosen to be the bride of the Crown Prince when both are ten years old, the Princess abandons her family and marries the prince that year. We hear her adult voice relating the sad changes her husband undergoes after their marriage, as he becomes increasingly fearful and eventually insane, committing atrocities, including murder. "I failed my husband," she says, unable to stop his rampages. Describing her training to be queen, the birth of her children and their fates, and her experience in the claustrophobic court, she breathes life into her descriptions of her unusual existence. Though her observations are honest and fair, her language, not surprisingly, is elegant and formal. She keeps her distance, not really sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings.
In Part II, Babs Halliwell, a contemporary scholar in Oxford, leaves for Korea to deliver a paper at a conference on globalization. Drabble creates obvious parallels between the life of the Princess and that of Halliwell from the outset of Part II. As Halliwell boards the plane, she brings with her a copy of the Princess's memoirs, "sent to her anonymously, packaged in cardboard, through Amazon.com," which she reads in flight.
No reader will miss the parallels between the life of Halliwell and that of the Princess, who "has entered her, like an alien creature in a science-fiction movie." Halliwell's background, her tragedies, her own difficult marriage to a mentally ill husband, and her uncertainties about the future are clearly created to show parallels to the Princess's life. Drabble draws additional parallels between recent news events from around the world and events in the life of the Princess, in an effort to continue the connections across cultures and time.
Those who have studied other cultures may find Drabble's themes obvious and her deliberate parallels lacking in subtlety. She explains these parallels, rather than allowing the reader to discover them. The construction feels artificial, and Drabble's tone is sometimes arch. The diary of the Princess, however, is especially interesting for the light it casts on a way of life almost unknown to contemporary westerners, and for this the novel is both important and fascinating. (3.5 stars) Mary Whipple
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Red Queen, 10 April 2009
By 
A. Hope "bookcrossing ali" (Birmingham, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Red Queen (Paperback)
The first section of the book is the beautiful haunting story of the Crown Princess married at 10 years old in the 1700's, her tragic life, the deaths of her son, and her "mad" husband.
In the second part of the book we meet Dr Barbara Halliwell, modern academic, mother to a dead son, wife of a "mad" husband, who becomes enchanted by the story of the Korean Princess whilst on a trip to Seoul; and who like the princess loves red, and fears magpies. Barbara's story is just as enthralling as that of the princess, for similar, and different reasons. The similarities between the Princess and Dr Halliwell are obvious. Like the Princess, Barbara is a woman of her time, she has the freedom to travel, while the princess led a cloistered existence. I found this to be an intelligent, and pacy read, loved it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected delight, 25 Aug 2010
By 
Ms. S. H. H. Smith "Sue Smith" (Quissac, France) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Red Queen (Paperback)
I had not heard of this novel by Margaret Drabble and was delighted by its structure and content. Divided - perhaps a little brutally - into two parts, the first covers the memoirs of a Korean queen of the 18C from the point of view of the present and through her living 'envoy'; the second part being the contemporary account of an English woman academic at a conference in Korea and her discovery of the queen's story and a relationship with the keynote speaker. Wittily postmodern whilst questioning the form - even to the extent of the novelist herself appearing as a character. Very different from the usual Drabble domestic realism and a real discovery.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A Horrible History would be preferable, 27 July 2014
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Book fiend "Enthusiast" (Petersfield, Hampshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Red Queen (Paperback)
From a purely personal point of view I hated this book - I cannot pretend that it is not well written but I don't like the style. It is written in two halves, the first being a Drabble version of a genuine historical document: an ancient autobiography written by a sad and lonely, but brave, North Korean queen. I would far rather have read the original than this tweaked and slightly fictionalised version. The second half of the book is written in the present tense and in the present century on behalf of an English woman who is being used as a vehicle in a slightly spooky but unconvincing way by the aforesaid Queen. The Englishwoman is about to go to a conference in Korea and is anonymously (never explained) sent a copy of the Queen's book and she is sufficiently intrigued to want to visit the various sites mentioned within. In her travels she meets a sympathetic local - the only truly amiable character in the book - and a professor of some vintage that she admires and, of course, falls for. I detest a story being told in the present tense - something that historians do a lot on television now and it is confusing and unnecessary, but the story itself is rather dull and unpredictable and the main protagonist is not attractive particularly. This is a very personal review and others, especially Drabble fans, may love the book and I apologise to them in advance!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Red Queen, 19 Jun 2007
This review is from: The Red Queen (Paperback)
It is some years since I last read a Margaret Drabble novel, so I am pleased to discover she is still writing novels of a high literary standard.

It is important to read the prologue to enable one to understand the author's inspiration for this novel.

A story written in two parts, based on historial memoirs narrated first by a Korean Princess in Ancient Times, then in Modern Times through British Academic Dr Babs Halliwell.

A very cleverly constructed narrative as the 'dead' Princess tries to ensure her story is not forgotten through Babs Halliwell's eventual affinity with the Princess.

An intriguing read.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Red Queen, 14 Jan 2006
This review is from: The Red Queen (Paperback)
This was a terrible read. Although the subject of the book, the memoirs of a Korean crown princess who lived around 200 years ago, is truly fascinating, Drabble's writing feels precious, obnoxious and desperate to appear intellectual. In particular her fictitious character of Dr Babs Halliwell in the second part of the book leaves you cold and, if anything, irritated with her. Drabble seeks to draw parallels between the crown princess and Babs Halliwell, but beyond some very superficial and obvious parallels, it's hard to imagine how the two lives are at all comparable. Quite apart from that, there seems no real point to the comparison - it simply leads nowhere. The premise of the book feels obvious, unsubtle and the writing clumsy. For me, the book was a slog to get through, but it did leave me wanting to find out more about the Korean crown princess since her story is incredible and engaging.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, 27 Jun 2013
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This review is from: The Red Queen (Paperback)
I found this book both compelling and interesting. It isn't a book I would normally read but I would definitely recommend it.
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The Red Queen
The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble (Paperback - 4 Aug 2005)
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