Sandy Gaines's Reviews > The Red Queen

The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble
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Sep 11, 11

Read in August, 2011

At the center of this engaging and surprisingly complex novel are the memoirs of the Yi dynasty Crown Princess of the late 18th century, Lady Hye-gyong, mother of King Chong-jo. The first half of the novel is Drabble's free and novelistic rendition of the memoirs themselves, based on the translation to English by Berkeley Prof. Ja-hyun Kim Haboush. Quite a story of palace intrigue, the tyrannical rule of King Yongjo, and the bizarre life and tragic end of Chong-jo's father, Crown Prince Sado. The descriptions of court life, clothing, customs, and so forth, and the weaving in of the historical story of the Yi dynasty, seem to me surprisingly authentic, though I'm no expert on the Yi dynasty. The second half of the novel is set in modern Korea, with a female protagonist who is an Oxford scholar of health policy who goes to Seoul for a conference and gets caught up in the Lady Hye-gyong story. This part has some wonderful descriptions of modern Seoul, not to mention some biting commentary on scholarly conferences. For me, the novel has some weak points, but Drabble is a superb writer, and her renditions of both the Yi court and modern Seoul are wonderfully rich and strike me as really authentic.
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