Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble

Someone recommended I read this book because it is set in South Korea and I am traveling there in a few months.  The book definitely provided some historical context in the first section - in particular about the ruling monarchs in the 18th century.  And it provided some modern day information about Seoul in the second part which may prove helpful.  But overall the book was very strange.

The first half was written from the perspective of the "Red Queen" - however at the time she narrates she has been dead for 2000 years.  In this way the author reconstructs portions of her actual diaries through a modern lens.  I guess it's sort of an interesting idea, but to me it just comes off as weird.  The Red Queen is five years old when she is chosen as the wife of the Crown Prince who is the same age.  As children they are friends, but by age 15 or so they must consummate the marriage and things go downhill from there.  They lose their first son and neither wholly recovers.  In fact, the Crown Prince is quite mad - the long dead queen believes in the modern era he would have been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.  He has many mistresses, becomes quite violent, struggles against his father and eventually dies an early, violent death.

Their second son survives and the Queen devotes her remaining years to ensuring his legacy - fighting with many relatives of her dead husband in order to do so.  She does live a long life (and apparently even longer after life).

The second part of the book is written from the perspective of spirits who overlook the modern day scientist who the Red Queen has chosen to carry on her legacy.  Before she travels to Seoul for a conference she mysteriously receives the Queen's diaries which suck her in and cause her to search out the palaces and other places she wrote about.  The story also covers two relationships she makes along the way - with a Korean ex-pat who she meets when there is a mix up with their luggage and with a famous Dutch scientist who she has a 3 day affair with.  While I enjoyed reading about her sightseeing in Seoul, on the whole the story was a little bit too odd.

In the final section the author writes herself into the story - she meets the scientist who passes on the Red Queen's story for her to share with the world.

Unless you have a particular interest in Korean history (or stories written from the perspective of spirits), I don't recommend this book.

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