The Red Queen

The Red Queen

3.18 (2,459 ratings by Goodreads)

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Barbara Halliwell, on a grant at Oxford, receives an unexpected package-a centuries-old memoir by a Korean crown princess. An appropriate gift indeed for her impending trip to Seoul, but Barbara doesn't know who sent it. On the plane, she avidly reads the memoir, a story 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. When a Korean man Barbara meets at her hotel offers to guide her to some of the haunts of the crown princess, Barbara tours the royal courts and develops a strong affinity for everything related to the princess and her mysterious life. Barbara's time in Korea goes quickly, but captivated by her experience and wanting to know more about the princess, she wonders if her life can ever be the way it was before.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 348 pages
  • 164 x 203 x 26mm | 318g
  • United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0156032708
  • 9780156032704
  • 295,572

Flap copy

Two hundred years after being plucked from obscurity to marry the Crown Prince of Korea, the Red Queen doesn't want her extraordinary existence to be forgotten. Her long and privileged life behind the Korean palace walls was not all it seemed, and the Red Queen (or her ghost) is still desperate to retell her tale.
Dr. Barbara Halliwell, with her own complicated past, seems the perfect envoy - having read the memoirs of the Crown Princess on the plane to Seoul, Barbara has become utterly engrossed in her story. But why has the Red Queen selected Barbara to keep her story alive, and what else does she want from her? As she explores the inner sanctums and the royal courts, Barbara Halliwell 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?
Set in eighteenth-century Korea and the present day, "The Red Queen is a rich, playful, and atmospheric novel about love, about personal and public history, and what it means to be remembered. Beautifully told, ingeniously constructed, this novel reveals Margaret Drabble at her extraordinary best.
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Back cover copy

"A love song to literature." --Chicago Tribune

On the cusp of a trip to Korea, Barbara Halliwell receives an unexpected package with no return address. Inside she finds a centuries-old memoir by a Korean crown princess that details the mysteries of the Korean court as well as the dramas that left the princess childless and her husband dead by his own hand. In Seoul, the intriguing Dr. Oo takes her through the courts themselves, an experience that leaves her as enchanted by him as by the mysterious life of the princess. She returns to England spellbound, wondering whether her life can ever return to normal--and whether she truly wants it to.
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year
"An 18th-century Korean princess tells her harrowing life story in...Drabble's lovely, intelligent 16th novel. A-."--Entertainment Weekly

Margaret Drabble is the author of many novels, including The Seven Sisters, The Peppered Moth, and The Witch of Exmoor, and is the editor of The Oxford Companion to English Literature. She lives in London.
Reading Group Guide available at
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Review quote


Reading Margaret Drabble's novels has become something of a rite of passage.-The Washington Post

As meticulous as Jane Austen, and as deadly as Evelyn Waugh. -Los Angeles Times


With humor, compassion and ironic detachment, Margaret Drabble has created a memorable portrait of an older woman who is constructing a new life with renewed energy and increased self-knowledge.-Chicago Tribune (Favorite Book of 2002)
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Rating details

2,459 ratings
3.18 out of 5 stars
5 13% (323)
4 26% (632)
3 36% (874)
2 17% (428)
1 8% (202)
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