I should have read the Crown Princess’s actual memoirs instead.
Pretentious and self-centered. Forget the book blurbs — this actually isn’t about the Lady Hyegyōng but about Margaret Drabble and the “connection” she allegedly feels with this 18th century Korean princess.
In fact, only the first half of the book even focuses on the Lady Hyegyōng’s story at all — and even that part is (1) almost all telling instead of showing and (2) clearly NOT told from a Korean (even if only a contemporary Korean) perspective but from the Western contemporary author’s own perspective. Then we get to the second part, where we’re being presented with a Western POV stand-in character for Ms. Drabble, who (for reasons never satisfactorily explained) feels compelled to research and “keep alive” the Lady Hyegyōng’s story after having mysteriously been sent a recent translation of her memoirs — until, that is, during the Seoul conference forming the majority of the second part’s backdrop, she embarks on a fling with the conference’s star speaker / scientist / participant (or rather, throws herself at him with jet propulsion force). And ultimately, Drabble doesn’t even shy away from explicitly inserting herself into the book, as (you guessed it) the autor eventually tasked with telling both the Crown Princess’s and the Western POV Drabble-stand-in character’s stories.
If I hadn’t been planning on using this book for the Kill Your Darlings game, I’d have DNF’d it — at the very latest when the second part’s supremely annoying Western POV character started throwing herself full-forcce at that star scientist (while at the same time being equally supremely rude to a Korean doctor who’d saved her skin on more than one occasion and who had even taken out time from his own busy schedule to show her Seoul’s historic sites).
So, one star for the faraway glimpes at the Lady Hyegyōng provided in the book’s first part, and half a star for inspiring me to seek out her actual story … and her own point of view.
But if this is supposed to be one of Margaret Drabble’s most celebrated books, I’m afraid I’m now going to need a truly huge incentive to go near her writing again any time soon.