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The Red Queen    by Margaret Drabble order for
Red Queen
by Margaret Drabble
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

In her prologue to The Red Queen, Margaret Drabble states that this is not an historical novel. And indeed the second half of the story is about what happens when a professional, Babs Halliwell, reads the account written in the first half by a Korean crown princess.

The Korean part makes for gripping reading. A young girl is betrothed to the future ruler of Korea, and they play together as children. The perils for the princess and her family of a life at court are vividly portrayed, as is her husband's descent into madness. The insular country that was Korea in the 1700s is seen through hindsight in the writings of the princess. But is it really the princess who is speaking? No, as Margaret Drabble says, the princess's voice has been mixed with the author's. The result makes the account seem very modern. The princess is well versed in psychological knowledge, and her spirit is not only alive today but demands to be heard and to live on.

In much the same way, the story of Babs is infused with the author's unique voice. At a conference in Korea, Babs is able to visit the site where the crown princess's 60th birthday was grandly celebrated. At the same time her life is significantly changed by an encounter and liaison with a noted senior professor in her field. In the end, what Babs does with the crown princess's story is rather odd.

I had problems with the author's approach, especially in the story of today, where all is overseen and judged by anonymous spirits as well as spirits of the past. While the story of the crown princess is truly enjoyable, the framework gets in its way.

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