Summary and book reviews of The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble

The Red Queen

By Margaret Drabble

The Red Queen
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2004,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2005,
    348 pages.

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Book Summary

Barbara Halliwell, on a grant at Oxford, receives an unexpected package-a memoir by a Korean crown princess, written more than two hundred years ago. A highly appropriate gift for her impending trip to Seoul. But from whom?

The story she avidly reads on the plane turns out to be one of great intrigue as well as tragedy. The Crown Princess Hyegyong recounts in extraordinary detail the ways of the Korean court and confesses the family dramas that left her childless and her husband dead by his own hand. Perhaps it is the loss of a child that resonates so deeply with Barbara . . . but she has little time to think of such things, she has just arrived in Korea.

She meets a certain Dr. Oo, and to her surprise and delight he offers to guide her to some of the haunts of the crown princess. As she explores the inner sanctums and the royal courts, Barbara 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? A beautifully told and ingeniously constructed novel, this is Margaret Drabble at her best.

Excerpt
The Red Queen

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE CHILD, I pined for a red silk skirt. I do not remember all the emotions of my childhood, but I remember this childish longing well. One of my many cousins came to visit us when I was five years old, and she had a skirt of red silk with patterned edgings, lined with a plain red silk of a slightly darker shade. It was very fashionable, and very beautiful. The gauzy texture was at once soft and stiff, and the colour was bold. Woven into it was a design of little summer flowers and butterflies, all in red. I loved it and I fingered it. That skirt spoke to my girlish heart. I wanted one like it, but I knew that my family was not as wealthy as my mother's sister's family, so I checked my desire, although I can see now that my mother and my aunt could read the longing in my eyes. My aunt and my cousins were delicate in their tastes, and like most women of that era, like most women of any era, they liked fine clothes. They came to...

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Introduction
In a way, The Red Queen is two novels - two simmering storylines set centuries apart yet entwined through one legacy. Showcasing her renowned imaginative powers, Margaret Drabble now plumbs a collage of worlds, from the private rooms of a Korean crown princess to a fateful conference in Seoul that unlocks a scholar's heart and mind.

While on a research grant at Oxford, Barbara Halliwell receives an unexpected package, shipped anonymously from an online bookseller. Though she is unable to determine who sent her this gift, she is intrigued and brings it with her en route to an international public-health meeting, ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Engrossing and provocative: a scarlet narrative thread reminds us how magical the novel can be in telling stories and lives.

Publishers Weekly

Nimbly jumping across time and around the globe, Drabble artfully stitches together the disparate strands of both women's lives with "a scarlet thread... of blood and joy." The voices of the dead reach out to the living, where the ancient and the modern "pass through one another, like clouds of bees, like distant galaxies... like the curving spirals of a double helix."

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Drabble is sleight-of-hand adept at slipping profoundly insightful musings on human nature, history, and social mores into scintillating and all-consuming novels.

San Francisco Chronicle

A deliciously evocative tale of palace intrigue...one of the most inventive works of fiction in recent memory.

Chicago Tribune

Drabble's tale is a love song to literature, an illustration as to how reader and subject become intertwined.

Village Voice

Drabble's plain narrative tenaciousness gives her writing transparency and fire.

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Beyond the Book

Margaret Drabble was born in 1939 in Sheffield, England. Her father was a barrister, county court judge and a novelist, and her sister is the author A.S. Byatt. She attended the Mount School in York from where she won a scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge to read English. She received a double first. After graduating from Cambridge she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford where she understudied for Vanessa Redgrave. She married the actor Clive Swift in 1960 and had three children. Following a divorce in 1975 she married Michael Holroyd in the early 1980s. The live in London and Somerset (South-East England).

She is the author of at least 16 novels and a range of non-fiction. Browse her complete bibliography at ...

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