World in a Book
Her latest splits sharply in two. The first part, rewriting the memoir of a historical figure known in the most recent of several translations as Lady Hyegyong, is a stark and brutal drama set in the court of imperial Korea. The second is a genial contemporary portrait of Dr. Babs Halliwell, a person of swoony compulsions, struggling intellect and half-guilty but reasonably efficient ambition, who reads a copy of the memoir on her way to Korea, where she is to deliver a paper at a conference.
Babs feels herself possessed and transfigured by the harsh life and dryly combative spirit of the princess never a queen, in fact. Despite being a professional woman at the start of the 21st century, Babs believes that she and her predecessor share certain qualities: each is independent yet susceptible, assertive yet vulnerable. In a preface, Drabble, confessing to have been similarly moved by the real princess' memoir, announces that she will explore this connection by turning her story into "a novel, of a kind," since "for better and for worse, writing novels is what I do.
Attempting to tow the year-old story into the present, Drabble has the princess pop up as a ghost with a surprisingly contemporary perspective -- alluding, among other things, to deconstruction and the Internet.
About the Author
In fact, this pretty well unhitches her voice; it's just too heavy a haul. As for Babs Halliwell, she never does seem to be transformed by her reading, despite the kinship she asserts with the princess each lost a son and each had a deranged husband and despite Drabble's insistence that Babs is being nudged by that tenacious specter.
It's possible, though only partly, to put this rather forced linkage aside and consider the stories separately.
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The princess tells of a life frozen less by the capricious tyranny of her father-in-law, King Yongjo -- the most rounded figure in a two-dimensional world -- than by the destructive rigidity of a terrifying court ritual. Taken from her family at the age of 10 to be a candidate for marriage to Sado, the royal heir himself only a child , she goes through an endlessly estranging process of elaborate selection and grooming. Once she is chosen, the grooming goes on to include defloration at the hand actually the brutal finger of a court lady.
In the life that follows, there is little but ordeal. And ordeal turns to horror as the princess' husband goes violently mad, provoked by the humiliations inflicted on him by his father -- who finally has him locked into a rice chest, where he dies after eight days of agony. The vortex of destruction that consumes Sado provides real suspense and horror to the flat lines of the princess' story.
The court is a court of roles, not characters; she herself is little more than an emblem of stoic plight. This might not matter, except that Drabble has chosen to break up this friezelike chronicle with the jittery comments of today's ghost.
Babs by Rhian White | Blurb Books
What we lose, then, is the shock of the past, the journey back to encounter its difference, its strangeness, its gaps. Instead of time travel, we get a time travelogue. View all New York Times newsletters. After the rigid chill of the princess' story, Babs Halliwell's voice emerges in a pleasurable rush.
And here the rueful irony and humor, edging toward slapstick, that Drabble uses both at the expense and in defense of her contemporary female clerisy is as bracing as ever. When Babs struggles out of bed on the morning of her journey, she's swimming up a Niagara Falls of compulsions. She has three or four fail-safe wake-up systems.
Her taxi has been ordered long before it's needed. At Heathrow, she sits quivering for two hours before she can board the plane: "No, she has not forgotten her passport, or her ticket or her medication. They are inanimate and inert, and they will stay where she put them.
Babs Hightower - Publicist
She may be gone from this earthly plane, but I know in my heart, she will not be forgotten. She will live on in our hearts, and in our memories. I am Tommy, Babs husband. For those whom may not have seen the posts on social media, she passed away Saturday evening.
She loved her books, dogs, kids, grandkids, and me too. She will be missed greatly. She will always be the love of my life. What I wanted to do, was take a moment and share a picture of the woman I love. You all read, and used or viewed her work here. However some of you may never have saw the woman behind the scenes.
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