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From a writer “of near-miraculous perfection” (The New York Times Book Review) and “a literary intelligence far surpassing most other writers of her generation” (San Francisco Chronicle), The Emperor’s Children is a dazzling, masterful novel about the intersections in the lives of three friends, now on the cusp of their thirties, making their way—and not—in New York City. From a writer “of near-miraculous perfection” (The New York Times Book Review) and “a literary intelligence far surpassing most other writers of her generation” (San Francisco Chronicle), The Emperor’s Children is a dazzling, masterful novel about the intersections in the lives of three friends, now on the cusp of their thirties, making their way—and not—in New York City. There is beautiful, sophisticated Marina Thwaite—an “It” girl finishing her first book; the daughter of Murray Thwaite, celebrated intellectual and journalist—and her two closest friends from Brown, Danielle, a quietly appealing television producer, and Julius, a cash-strapped freelance critic. The delicious complications that arise among them become dangerous when Murray’s nephew, Frederick “Bootie” Tubb, an idealistic college dropout determined to make his mark, comes to town. As the skies darken, it is Bootie’s unexpected decisions—and their stunning, heartbreaking outcome—that will change each of their lives forever. A richly drawn, brilliantly observed novel of fate and fortune—of innocence and experience, seduction and self-invention; of ambition, including literary ambition; of glamour, disaster, and promise—The Emperor’s Children is a tour de force that brings to life a city, a generation, and the way we live in this moment.


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From a writer “of near-miraculous perfection” (The New York Times Book Review) and “a literary intelligence far surpassing most other writers of her generation” (San Francisco Chronicle), The Emperor’s Children is a dazzling, masterful novel about the intersections in the lives of three friends, now on the cusp of their thirties, making their way—and not—in New York City. From a writer “of near-miraculous perfection” (The New York Times Book Review) and “a literary intelligence far surpassing most other writers of her generation” (San Francisco Chronicle), The Emperor’s Children is a dazzling, masterful novel about the intersections in the lives of three friends, now on the cusp of their thirties, making their way—and not—in New York City. There is beautiful, sophisticated Marina Thwaite—an “It” girl finishing her first book; the daughter of Murray Thwaite, celebrated intellectual and journalist—and her two closest friends from Brown, Danielle, a quietly appealing television producer, and Julius, a cash-strapped freelance critic. The delicious complications that arise among them become dangerous when Murray’s nephew, Frederick “Bootie” Tubb, an idealistic college dropout determined to make his mark, comes to town. As the skies darken, it is Bootie’s unexpected decisions—and their stunning, heartbreaking outcome—that will change each of their lives forever. A richly drawn, brilliantly observed novel of fate and fortune—of innocence and experience, seduction and self-invention; of ambition, including literary ambition; of glamour, disaster, and promise—The Emperor’s Children is a tour de force that brings to life a city, a generation, and the way we live in this moment.

30 review for The Emperor's Children

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mark Desrosiers

    I only read about eight pages, a stately procession of blindingly obvious sentences with laser-pointers and strobelights and migraines between every fooking vowel and consonant, but I don't need to read any more. This is exactly the sort of prose that should be excised from these mass NYC-wuss fiction rollouts. For example (skipping forward to page 27): The insouciance, of course, masked endless and wearisome neuroses, to which Marina and Danielle were privy. "Of course" -- what kind of sadistic w I only read about eight pages, a stately procession of blindingly obvious sentences with laser-pointers and strobelights and migraines between every fooking vowel and consonant, but I don't need to read any more. This is exactly the sort of prose that should be excised from these mass NYC-wuss fiction rollouts. For example (skipping forward to page 27): The insouciance, of course, masked endless and wearisome neuroses, to which Marina and Danielle were privy. "Of course" -- what kind of sadistic writer throws in an "of course" here? Endless and wearisome? Everyone knows that neuroses don't "end", and they are by definition "wearisome". Both adjectives are useless and throb my temples. "Privy"? Ain't that where I go to take an insouciant bowel movement among the peaceful cricket sounds? That's one of the more innocuous examples. How about this one (p. 59): Perhaps the frisson was born of the taboo, amid all that flourescence, the acres of discreet carpet, of the sense that Julius might have to convince David of his own worth in this setup, which cast him as dogsbody rather than an enviable and ethereal man-about-town? What the foock is that? "Frisson"? "Discreet carpet"? "Dogsbody"? "Ethereal"? I've had vomitus traverse my tongue which made a more efficient point, and also sounded better. (Did I mention Claire Messud apparently teaches creative writing?) To quote Stephen Fry (or is it the privy?): total ass-mud. My only hope is that all the gushing critics are weaving transparent threads, 'cause I wouldn't mind at all seeing Claire Messud nude...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Is Claire Messud Wearing Any Clothes? This is a question I have been sleeping fitfully on. I finished The Emperor's Children last night and I really wanted to be able to post a wholly enthusiastic assessment of it here, but I can't. First, let's get rid of business. This is a book that has to appear in the epilogue of my dissertation, which discusses literary reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks. My primary focus here is going to be on how in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Jonathan Safran Foer Is Claire Messud Wearing Any Clothes? This is a question I have been sleeping fitfully on. I finished The Emperor's Children last night and I really wanted to be able to post a wholly enthusiastic assessment of it here, but I can't. First, let's get rid of business. This is a book that has to appear in the epilogue of my dissertation, which discusses literary reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks. My primary focus here is going to be on how in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Jonathan Safran Foer uses the figure and style of the child as a way of modeling what he takes to be an ethical or appropriate literary response to an event which, it seems clear, reminds him of the Holocaust, Dresden, Hiroshima, etc. Messud approaches Sept. 11 more directly, making it a crucial hinge around which her handful of her plots resolve themselves. Sept. 11 changes her characters. In short, it does the work that she ought to be doing for herself as a novelist. But before dealing with its problems, I should admit I really enjoyed the first three parts of the novel, the first three hundred pages. Messud is good at writing one kind of sentence--a sort of Henry James Lite sentence--but it's a beautiful sentence and can achieve impressive effects at the level of the paragraph and the chapter. Some of the novel's early chapters are really terrific, scathingly ironic in the best way. Their satirical edge was what compelled me to buy the book in the first place. Unfortunately Messud becomes a victim of her own success; she flails when she tries to deviate from her standard style. Efforts at writing fake newspaper columns or at miming styles other than her preferred style creak awkwardly. This is a symptom of the fact that Messud has problems writing characters with depth and dimension. Everyone speaks like everyone else, thinks like everyone else, experiencing the world through the prisim of her Henry James Lite style, which at first seems as if it's an ironic commentary on how the minds of these characters work but turns instead into an inadvertently commentary on Messud herself. What differentiates her two female protagonists, Danielle and Marina, are relative levels of beauty. Her two main gay characters, Julius and David, though supposedly very different sorts of gay men, end up seeming like catty clones of each other, stereotypes incarnate. Murray Thwaite, the intellectual luminary at the center of the narrative--the "emperor" of the title--is also paper thin. His intellectual pedigree and his esteem in the liberal community is often referred to but not persuasively demonstrated; he manages not to say even one smart thing in 470 pages, which may be part of her point, but Messud does not do enough to build him up before she tears him down. Only Booty, Murray's nephew, rises above the words on the page that describe him. Only he makes a meaningful choice when confronted with the the terrorist attacks, and a hilarious one at that. The rest of the characters here are constitutionally unable to make meaningful choices because their personhood has not been sufficiently developed in what preceded the moment of the attack. Danielle becomes depressed. Murray remains more or less the same. Marina and Julius are only superficially scarred. I came to this novel prepared to like it--hell, even to love it--and for about 300 pages I did, on its own terms, in its own style. Once September rolled around, the whole thing fell apart for me. Which does not of course mean I won't write about the book in my dissertation. I will.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    1.) There's the grand old man of letters, Murray Thwaite, and the erotic charge in his relationship with his beautiful, adoring daughter Marina, who begins a relationship with and eventually marries Ludovic, an editor and a rising young Turk among the 'chattering classes,' a man Murray despises and who despises Murray in turn. Messud begins to weave a Jamesian tale in which Murray and Ludovic, monsters of egotism, vie for control of the affections of the passive, childlike Marina...but then she 1.) There's the grand old man of letters, Murray Thwaite, and the erotic charge in his relationship with his beautiful, adoring daughter Marina, who begins a relationship with and eventually marries Ludovic, an editor and a rising young Turk among the 'chattering classes,' a man Murray despises and who despises Murray in turn. Messud begins to weave a Jamesian tale in which Murray and Ludovic, monsters of egotism, vie for control of the affections of the passive, childlike Marina...but then she drops that storyline entirely. 2.) Then there's Frederick/Bootie, Murray's nephew, a slovenly, awkward, slightly creepy but intelligent and well-read drifting college dropout who shows up in New York and is taken in by Murray, and employed as his secretary. Bootie idolizes Murray. This isn't really believable, because someone of Bootie's reading and standards probably wouldn't mistake Murray--a 'thoughtful columnist,' a mere journalist, barely an intellectual, certainly no sage--for the second coming of Emerson. But whatever. Bootie is soon disillusioned with Murray, and does something really, wonderfully nasty: he happens upon Murray's secret manuscript, a work of philosophy that Murray cherishes as the key to his literary immortality, and writes a damning expose of Murray's pretensions and limitations, with of course generous quotations from the manuscript. He sends the article to Ludovic, who sits on it, but idly considers publishing it in the new magazine he's planning, much to the fury of Murray and the mixed feelings of Marina, who's just then mad at her dad for advising her not publish her first book. This Bootie subplot, though seriously flawed by Messud's inability to make Bootie at all alive, would have nicely dovetailed with the Murray-Ludovic-Marina triangle, but, again, Messud drops the thread completely. It just goes away. Murray fires Bootie and the boy slinks off to Fort Greene. So yeah, the only storylines Messud choses to develop throughout the novel are 1.) the self-destructive antics of Julius, a promiscuous, sarcastic, coke-snorting gay man straight from Central Casting, and 2.) the affair Marina's best friend, Danielle, starts with Murray, after Marina gets with Ludovic, who Danielle at first thought liked her. This is the least interesting of all the subplots, and the vehicle for a lot of mawkish indirect discourse when we're in Danielle's head. Danielle is flat and boring, the character who is, after Bootie, the least able to carry the book. And soon all hope is lost when 9/11 happens. I groaned when I recalled, 80 pages from the end, that this was a 9/11 novel. Fuck. Clio, Muse of History, appears on stage in all her berobed, personified glory, and all hope for any saving dramatic development is vanquished. How lazy, how jejune. The characters, already stalled, then begin wringing their hands about how the world has changed forever. I can't really convey how disappointing this book is. (I do feel iffy about giving it just one star and shelving it with 'crap,' because there are some very fine things here...but I'm going to be stern: a novel should be judged as a novel, as a structure, not as a sheaf of incidental beauties.) Messud abandons all of her Jamesian deftness of plotting and Wharton-like lofty irony for some really dull ruminations, clunky coincidences, and automatic and utterly undistinguished prose. And I was completely puzzled by the shift to Bootie at the end. He flees New York--everyone thinks he died when the towers fell, he was temping nearby--and hides out in Miami, and the book ends with his plan to reemerge someday and "take them by surprise." Huh? Huh? Bootie is, as a character, the greatest failure in the book, the most obvious sign of Messud's limitations as a writer (and if you can't construct a believable Brooding Young Male, you might as well get out of the game; even if you can't fully imagine him, the ground is thick with precedents from which to model such a character). Even when he's betraying Murray, he's so vague and lifeless. He's hardly on the page as an incidental figure, let alone a subtly nasty Jamesian villain or brooding Dostoevskian fireband. Why is he the portentous spirit presiding over the finale? Doesn't make sense. Perhaps this is what I get for taking a chance on a bestseller. What dreary shit.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    Painfully overwritten. You can almost feel Messud pausing at points to thumb through a thesaurus.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

    I have less than 100 pages left in this one, but don't foresee the end changing my opinion. I hated this book. Hated. I must not be smart enough to "get it", since I didn't go to Brown and all. But really, (can you not put entire sentences in parenthesis) within your other run-on, (never ending sentences?? Please??). I mean seriously, get an editor...save us 300 pages. I felt the need to consult a dictionary every other page, but really just didn't care that much to understand what EXACTLY, SPECI I have less than 100 pages left in this one, but don't foresee the end changing my opinion. I hated this book. Hated. I must not be smart enough to "get it", since I didn't go to Brown and all. But really, (can you not put entire sentences in parenthesis) within your other run-on, (never ending sentences?? Please??). I mean seriously, get an editor...save us 300 pages. I felt the need to consult a dictionary every other page, but really just didn't care that much to understand what EXACTLY, SPECIFICALLY, GARRULOUSLY (as in excessively and pointlessly talkative, in case you were wondering and feel the need to us big words for everything) Ms. Messud was trying to say. These characters have a sense of entitlement, there's an inappropriate affair (aren't they ALL??), and then 9/11 happens...there's your story. Ugh! I'll never get these 479 pages of my life back! I don't know of ANYONE who speaks, thinks, acts or lives like these characters...and I'm in the "Cusp of the Thirties" group. And I have smart friends!! I didn't like this book, I didn't like the characters, I didn't like the writing. And I definitely don't like the people that named it a best book of the year. UPDATE - finished over lunch. Yup. Still not a fan.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “Entitlement,” said Danielle. “It’s about a sense of entitlement.” Pretty much sums up the book. Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children is a very familiar story. As soon as you start reading it, you get the sense that you’ve been here before. The setting (New York City, where roughly 64% of all novels take place*) and the characters (over-educated and entitled young people) have been done before. What sets The Emperor’s Children apart is a bit subtle. For one, the young people aren’t that young, “Entitlement,” said Danielle. “It’s about a sense of entitlement.” Pretty much sums up the book. Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children is a very familiar story. As soon as you start reading it, you get the sense that you’ve been here before. The setting (New York City, where roughly 64% of all novels take place*) and the characters (over-educated and entitled young people) have been done before. What sets The Emperor’s Children apart is a bit subtle. For one, the young people aren’t that young, being in their early thirties (this is young to me, to be clear). For another, the time period – the novel begins in March 2001, and moves gradually towards you-know-what – harkens back to a world that feels very, very distant. A world fresh off the end of the Cold War. A world of tech bubbles, and shark attacks, and a missing D.C. intern. A world where it was hard to imagine a decade of war, threat levels, a massive recession, and social upheaval. We were in a different place on that day before that day, and The Emperor’s Children tries to capture that. * I completely fabricated that statistic. Our three main characters are Marina, Danielle, and Julius. All three friends went to Brown together, entered the workforce together (in media-type jobs, obviously, this being a NYC-set novel), and together came to the realization that life wasn’t necessarily giving them what they thought they deserved. All three flashed early, in their twenties, and now seem to have run into personal and professional dead ends. Danielle is probably the most put together, holding a steady job as a public television producer. Julius was once a critic for the Village Voice, but now gets by on a series of temp jobs. At one of those assignments, he begins dating his boss, David, a wealthy Wall Street type. Marina is the daughter of famed celebrity journalist Murray Thwaite, and she is still partially coasting on that status. She is beautiful – a former teen model – and has a book project about the social history of children’s clothing that she has been working to complete for years. The novel’s drama – low key as it is – runs through the interactions of these three. Danielle, despite her professional maturity, is emotionally insecure; much of her relationship with Marina depends on her seeming relief that Marina has not put things together. Marina is a bit like Marnie from Girls. She is casually superior and entirely ignorant of her spoiled lifestyle, living in her parents’ ritzy apartment, sponging off their finances, and generally waiting for something to get handed to her. Something does, when Danielle introduces Marina to Ludovic Seeley, the ridiculously-named Australian who is in town to open a new literary journal devoted to smug opinions. Ludovic gives Marina a job, and begins dating her to boot, all to Danielle’s slow-simmering resentment. At the same time, unknown to Marina, Danielle begins spending a lot of quality time with Marina’s older and still-married father, Murray. Meanwhile, Julius is on the other side of town (metaphorically; I don’t know NYC geography super well), getting used to being a kept man. His storyline is the least connected of the three, and he’s often off in his own orbit, disappearing for long sections. A further complication – again, pretty low key – comes in the form of Bootie Tubb, Marina’s cousin. He has just come into town after a failed stint at college. Overweight, bespectacled, and hopelessly enamored of his own intellect, Bootie is a mixture of Ignatius J. Reilly and the weird, creepy guy who is one step from serial killer. Bootie begins working as Murray’s secretary, and harbors an entirely internalized love affair with Marina. (It is a testament to how long I have been consuming Game of Thrones that I didn't bat an eye at this incestuous angle). At 479 pages, this is a relatively big novel that reads small. It’s amazing how swiftly it moves, and how engrossing it is, despite lacking any memorable set pieces. I’ve seen Messud compared to Tom Wolfe, and certainly, they are both keen observers of privileged New Yorkers. But this is nothing like The Bonfire of the Vanities. Everything about Bonfire was big! The dazzlingly cinematic sequences! The manic internal monologues! It featured indelible phrasemaking, a gross ton of exclamation points (!!!), and a broad cross-section of the Big Apple serving as characters. The Emperor’s Children is far more humble and subdued. I don’t think it has a single “great” scene; there are at least five, and as many as ten unforgettable sequences in Bonfire. Messud’s ambitions and storytelling are fairly circumscribed. She is honing in on a very particular age-group, in a very specific cohort. There is particularity in her writing, not universality. Yet she captures that small segment of society pretty convincingly. Her portrayals feel exact and spot-on. It should be noted that no one is plumbed for psychological depth. The Emperor’s Children is told in the third-person, getting inside the thoughts of some, but not all the characters. With some exceptions, most everyone is given multiple dimensions. (One big exception: the portrayal of Julius, a gay coke-snorter with monogamy issues, feels pretty stereotyped). I always find it telling when I pull for fictional creations while also partly disliking them. That, I think, is the sign of a solid human portrayal, giving us both the positives and negatives, without dividing a person into the categories of good and bad. This is a novel that was widely praised when it was first published in 2006. The reactions from ordinary reviewers has been much more mixed. I can understand why. As I’ve mentioned several times, the stakes here are not high. Love affairs. Professional ambitions. The struggle to define oneself. This is the fodder for a lot of novels. There’s a literary phrase called the “comedy of manners”, which refers to a satire of a particular social group. That’s what this is. To that end, some of her characterizations are quite good. Others, though, are less successful. Besides that, it’s never entirely clear what Messud is ultimately trying to say. Then there is the looming shadow of that day. There is no foreshadowing, no ominous tones, just the passing of months as we slip towards September. What you think about where The Emperor’s Children is heading will really determine whether you like this or not. Some readers will see this as a lazy, exploitative terrorist ex machina that clumsily caps a meandering piffle of a book. An ending that is sloppy at best, insulting at worst. For whatever reason, I thought it succeeded in a minor way. I think the knowledge of what is coming, knowing exactly what these characters cannot know, gives this novel a strange tick-tock sensation. It’s a comedy of manners in which an hourglass is invisibly draining in every scene. Even when there isn’t much happening, there is an inherent tension; we know that everything is going to change very soon. It’s a cheap trick, I suppose, but cheap tricks can be effective. I liked the contrast between the quotidian concerns of her characters and the world-historical event bearing down on them. Yes, the troubles of Messud’s thirty-somethings pale in comparison to New York’s awful Tuesday morning. But that’s sort of the whole point – that these people were really living with their heads firmly implanted into their own asses. What really worked for me, in the end, was the way Messud captured a very particular milieu, that fleeting space between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the never-ending War on Terror. It’s interesting to look back at that time, and get a sense, even if its skewed, of how people thought, talked, dreamed, and conceived the world. In a way, then, the older this novel gets, the farther from 2001 it drifts, the more power it actually holds.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sara (sarawithoutanH)

    This is one of the laziest and most obnoxiously pretentious books I’ve ever read. The characters were flat and uninteresting (and very annoying). I don’t know about you, but I’m a little tired of reading about uppity privileged white people. There’s nothing special about this book. The only character that was of some interest was Julius, but he was painfully overwritten and characterized as the typical “flamboyant gay man in NYC.” I believe he was Asian (I’m not sure Messud even takes the time t This is one of the laziest and most obnoxiously pretentious books I’ve ever read. The characters were flat and uninteresting (and very annoying). I don’t know about you, but I’m a little tired of reading about uppity privileged white people. There’s nothing special about this book. The only character that was of some interest was Julius, but he was painfully overwritten and characterized as the typical “flamboyant gay man in NYC.” I believe he was Asian (I’m not sure Messud even takes the time to describe his origin fully), but his race felt like just a random detail thrown in and not actual representation. Literally nothing of note happens throughout this whole goddamn 431 page book. The characters just flit from one thing to the next with no real intrigue. I guess you could argue that stuff DOES happen, but what I’m trying to say is that it is BORING. And one of the most annoying things about this book is that in the last 50 pages it suddenly becomes a 9/11 book. I find that insanely lazy and a gross misuse of a tragedy. Not only is 9/11 randomly thrown in, but none of the character plots are finished. Like, 9/11 happens and everyone is like “wow, life” and then it’s over. wtf??? The writing is unbearably verbose. It’s like Messud is trying desperately to prove that her English degree from Brown is so0o0o0o useful. I’m glad I listened to the audiobook because the writing is made up of endless run-on sentences that I think would be pretty hard to physically read. It’s like Messud wants you to feel dumb for not memorizing the dictionary. Here’s an example of a sentence that I found in someone else’s review (thank you, Ewurama): “She, who had felt she saw so clearly that it hurt, had felt that the truth, crystalline, was, with Murray, granted her (though not through his help, or anything he did: but just by his presence; as though, indeed, he were but a part of her that had been lost, a magnificent Platonic epiphany repeated, and daily repeated: this, surely, was love!), felt, now, that the weight of emotion lay like a veil, a fine mist.” Like, what the actual fuck are you trying to say???? I’m just wondering where the editor was when this book was getting published. This book was also pretty fat phobic. There’s a character named Bootie (this name alone enrages me; it is SO DUMB) who is described as overweight. Every chance Messud gets, she brings this up. The other characters insult Bootie for being fat, as if being fat is the worst thing that a person could be. Messud is pretty clear about how she feels about being fat by how constantly she brings up descriptions of Bootie being sweaty and large. She doesn’t just leave it at him being fat either, she also hits us over the head with the fact that he is also awkward and has a creepy crush on his cousin (!?!?). He’s described as being sloppy and dirty and someone who no one likes. The treatment of this character irks me to no end. There was also a few times that I was uncomfortable with how Messud treated characters that were minorities. There’s one black character that she describes in a very weird and troublesome way. I wish I had a copy of the book so I can find the quote exactly, but it was something along the lines of describing his skin as being “midnight” and “not American black, but a black from deep in Africa.” Like, I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it made me feel weird. She also repeatedly uses the word “f*ggot” (I don’t mean to repeat it, which is why I’ve attempted to censor it). It’s almost always used by Julius, who is gay, but it still felt like she was appropriating a word that was not hers to use. The book is not told in first person so there are a few times that it’s in the narrative, which just felt wrong. So, overall, don’t read this book. It’s not good.

  8. 4 out of 5

    David

    I found "The Emperor's Children" incredibly disappointing. The reviews I had read just raved and raved, but I disliked it intensely. Shallow, solipsistic characters about whom I couldn't even bring myself to care - neither could the author apparently, as some were nothing more than lazy ciphers - the guy from Australia, Julius's boyfriend, the wife. Good God, if you are going to stoop to the jaded device of bringing in an alienated outsider to stir things up, please take the time at least to dev I found "The Emperor's Children" incredibly disappointing. The reviews I had read just raved and raved, but I disliked it intensely. Shallow, solipsistic characters about whom I couldn't even bring myself to care - neither could the author apparently, as some were nothing more than lazy ciphers - the guy from Australia, Julius's boyfriend, the wife. Good God, if you are going to stoop to the jaded device of bringing in an alienated outsider to stir things up, please take the time at least to develop the character beyond the level of caricature. And allow him to wear shoes, damn it! There are already plenty of books in existence in which pompous academic males seduce women half their age. Similarly, there is no shortage of books in which people in their twenties pass their time in self-absorbed navelgazing and low-level whining. Is this ground sufficiently fertile to warrant another visit? On the basis of this over-hyped mess of a book, I'd have to think not. The most annoying aspect of this book is the lazy way in which Messaud invokes the September 11th attacks as the ultimate deus ex machina to resolve the meandering, not particularly interesting, plot. It's as if tragedy trumps everything, including the author's responsibility to write a story that's credible. Messaud's writing style is fluid and the book is very readable, but given the shallowness of the characters and the author's laziness about the plot, the return on investment of time is low.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ewurama

    I didn’t start to get into this one until about 200 pages in, when out of nowhere came intrigue! scandal! Until that point the characters came across as either too irritating or too false to grab me. (Seriously, Ludovic Seeley? Bootie Tubb? Sounds like a cartoon villain and his sidekick.) I did find myself drawn in, though, around page 200 as I said, and there were many instances at which I did really admire the author’s writing—whether for a particular turn of phrase or a keenly drawn insight. I didn’t start to get into this one until about 200 pages in, when out of nowhere came intrigue! scandal! Until that point the characters came across as either too irritating or too false to grab me. (Seriously, Ludovic Seeley? Bootie Tubb? Sounds like a cartoon villain and his sidekick.) I did find myself drawn in, though, around page 200 as I said, and there were many instances at which I did really admire the author’s writing—whether for a particular turn of phrase or a keenly drawn insight. And then there were things like this: “She, who had felt she saw so clearly that it hurt, had felt that the truth, crystalline, was, with Murray, granted her (though not through his help, or anything he did: but just by his presence; as though, indeed, he were but a part of her that had been lost, a magnificent Platonic epiphany repeated, and daily repeated: this, surely, was love!), felt, now, that the weight of emotion lay like a veil, a fine mist.” I’m sorry, what? Come again? It’s like watching a Gilmore Girls marathon—too many words! Somebody give the copyeditor a raise for keeping track of all those commas (17, I counted). I think I might actually understand the sentence now, but that’s after having read it 30 times. I don’t think authors should water down their prose for easy reading, but I sometimes found it difficult to see what purpose Messud’s stylistic choices served. Although some of the characters felt incredibly false to me initially, they became more believable (though no more loveable) as the book unfolded. I don’t mind not liking the characters in a book, but I do want to like reading about them; and that often wasn’t the case with this novel. An interesting part of the reading experience for me, though, was how I could at once be critical of the characters and sheepishly cognizant of my own unfortunate resemblance to them. I laughed at Bootie’s (Seriously, Bootie Tubb?) pseudo-intellectual posturing and (adolescent) search for meaning! truth! but I quote Emerson to myself in earnest. I rolled my eyes at Marina and her whole “I want to do something important” routine. “So do it already and shut up!” I tell her (and myself). In his novel Everyman (which I haven’t read), Phillip Roth has one of his characters quote painter and photographer Chuck Close: “Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.” Marina and her crew were an uncomfortable reminder of the luxury of being able to look for inspiration! and meaning! and how easily we (I) can take that indulgence for granted. Wow. Okay, this review has turned out to be much longer than I’d planned to make it, so I’ll quit now before I commit all the sins I’ve just complained about!! ;) Too, late? ,? ,? In summary: some things I really liked, others not so much…on balance, the book was just okay.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I'm sure I wrote a review of this book. Not sure where it went. I read this book when it first came out one summer when staying at Harbin Hot Springs for the summer. Read most of it outside under a tree each day. I love this author .."The Woman Upstairs" is my favorite. I liked this book.. however - my one problem with it .., was I felt the writing was MUCH more sophisticated than the story itself. I must have looked up more vocabulary words in this book - than 10 other fiction books combined. A I'm sure I wrote a review of this book. Not sure where it went. I read this book when it first came out one summer when staying at Harbin Hot Springs for the summer. Read most of it outside under a tree each day. I love this author .."The Woman Upstairs" is my favorite. I liked this book.. however - my one problem with it .., was I felt the writing was MUCH more sophisticated than the story itself. I must have looked up more vocabulary words in this book - than 10 other fiction books combined. Anything Claire Writes is worth reading!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

    My personal bible- the Sunday New York Times Book Review- claimed that this novel was the best of the year, the first to tackle the issues of the current 30-something generation, the first to directly deal with September 11 in fiction form and basically brilliant. I went into this book with high expectations and was not disappointed. The characters in this novel are all superbly drawn and voiced, each seems like a separate, distinct being with individual loves, fears, insecurities, desires and ab My personal bible- the Sunday New York Times Book Review- claimed that this novel was the best of the year, the first to tackle the issues of the current 30-something generation, the first to directly deal with September 11 in fiction form and basically brilliant. I went into this book with high expectations and was not disappointed. The characters in this novel are all superbly drawn and voiced, each seems like a separate, distinct being with individual loves, fears, insecurities, desires and above all, disappointments. Early on in the book, it becomes apparent that in New York City, if you haven't made it big, or at least made a splash in the learned, academic/journalistic world, by the age of 30, you likely never will and thus, your life is over. The three friends that the story centers around graduated from Brown and moved to the city, only to flounder their way for the next eight years. Julius, a fabulously gay man from Michigan, once made a splash by writing book reviews, but is now the "house wife" of a rich businessman from Scarsdale. Marina, daughter of a famous reporter and literary writer, has been working on a book about the reflection of culture on children's clothing (a book from which the novel takes its title) for the past eight years, a book that no one, not her friends or her family, ever think will be finished. Danielle, a producer in television, has her story ideas about cultural revolutions or the Australian aborigines shot down so often, she finally relents and pitches a story about botched liposuction, just to get on the air. Members of Marina's family, including her famous father, lawyer mother and younger cousin and a rich magazine publisher round out the cast of characters. This novel could easily be held up against Jane Austin's as a lesson in the evolution of irony over the centuries. Messud's wit is bitter at times, sharp at others, but if you read virtually any chapter again, there is room for a sarcastic and ironic view of what the characters are thinking. Each character has the capacity to be at once selfish and utterly selfless, or to show generosity and greed in the breath. Messud's picture of New York City, both before and after September 11, is accurate, both impressive and slightly seedy. As the actual events of September 11 unfold, unexpected and yet brilliantly folded into the plot and resolution of the novel, one experiences this tragedy though the eyes of the characters, each reaction different from the others, yet each unbelievable poignant and utterly effecting.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I did not like this, so it gets only one star. As I plodded through this I kept wondering what the book was trying to say. It is about growing up, standing on your own two feet and making your own way. We look at three kids who have graduated from Brown University, two girls and a gay guy. They are all approaching thirty and the year is 2001. All are floundering in every way imaginable, both on a personal level and in getting themselves established in a career. All are extremely naive and terribl I did not like this, so it gets only one star. As I plodded through this I kept wondering what the book was trying to say. It is about growing up, standing on your own two feet and making your own way. We look at three kids who have graduated from Brown University, two girls and a gay guy. They are all approaching thirty and the year is 2001. All are floundering in every way imaginable, both on a personal level and in getting themselves established in a career. All are extremely naive and terribly shallow. Some of the parents equally so. More importantly, the author fails to give to the characters adequate depth that might allow the reader to feel sorry for them or feel empathy for them, thus allowing the reader to forgive their childish and nasty behavior. Because no sympathy is created, the tale becomes overly long, drawn out and boring. The story is trite. We bring in a foreigner and he messes things up. That is the story in a nutshell. I disliked how the author throws in unnecessarily fancy words. They confuse and do not enhance one’s appreciation. Neither was I impressed. I had the feeling I was supposed to be laughing at some of the lines. Perhaps this was meant to be a satire of academia, but I never laughed. No, not once. At other times, I found the "humor" crude and childish. The homosexual innuendos, which might be laughed at by some, put me off. So that you have been warned - the language is at times filthy, but worse than that you have to spend hours at cocktail parties, gay bars and clubs, and listening to superficial chatter. Drugs are part of the scene. Illicit love affairs, do they attract you? I hope so, if you intend on spending time with this book. The life style of the people we meet, quite simply bored me to death! Then there is the ending, and I do not want to give any spoilers, but I will simply say it ends with 9/11. I found using 9/11 as a means of resolving issues within the story extremely weak. The audiobook is superbly executed by Suzanne Toren. This is about the only think I can praise the book for, by that I mean the audiobook. She is totally fantastic. Men and women, and academics and gay men and Australians, she gets them all right. You understand every word that she says and her intonations cannot be improved upon. The problem is, if you dislike the characters as I did, you must listen to their inane chatter. I have given the narration five stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    L

    After finally finishing this book in an agonizing three days, I read the NYT book review on line to try to figure out why the NYT would consider this book is notable. Evidently, Massud is a "writer's writer" and the reviewer herself was a Brown graduate in her '30s. Not being either a writer or a Brown graduate, and being in the later half of my 30's, nothing in this book grabbed or amused me, save, perhaps, the character of Julius. This is due in part to the forced use of "10 cent words" when o After finally finishing this book in an agonizing three days, I read the NYT book review on line to try to figure out why the NYT would consider this book is notable. Evidently, Massud is a "writer's writer" and the reviewer herself was a Brown graduate in her '30s. Not being either a writer or a Brown graduate, and being in the later half of my 30's, nothing in this book grabbed or amused me, save, perhaps, the character of Julius. This is due in part to the forced use of "10 cent words" when others would do (and likely resonate more clearly as vocabulary used by well-educated 30s english majors living in Manhattan sponging off of their parents; not their 50-60 year old parents). Next, the narrator's voice overshadows the development of the characters to the point where each character had very limited depth (again, save Julius, however his depth was stereotypical disillusioned gay man in Manhattan unable to maintain a relationship having meaningless sex in odd places for the thrill of it). Lastly, the character of Ludo Seeley, who is presented as a villan is also never developed either as villainous or as an Australian (his lack of Australian-ness, or anything other than the same portrayal as the other characters was one of the more amusing points of the book). He's just as bland as the rest. There is nothing sympathetic about any of these characters; nor is there much to hate. The overall effect is that the sentence structure, conversations, and language used by each character are simply implausible and frankly, not terribly insightful or interesting. The reactions and responses to the critical event in the last 20 pages or so are passingly interesting but definitely not worth the wait.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    This book came in for a drubbing from the Goodreads community that was very much at odds with the fulsome praise on its back cover. Where I shall I situate myself on this continuum of blame to praise? At over 400 pages, The Emperor's Children is long, but I raced through it, inhaling sections like I've been known to do with big bowls of salty, buttery popcorn. This may have something to do with where I'm at, right now -- craving the kind of escape that narrative provides -- but it's also a testam This book came in for a drubbing from the Goodreads community that was very much at odds with the fulsome praise on its back cover. Where I shall I situate myself on this continuum of blame to praise? At over 400 pages, The Emperor's Children is long, but I raced through it, inhaling sections like I've been known to do with big bowls of salty, buttery popcorn. This may have something to do with where I'm at, right now -- craving the kind of escape that narrative provides -- but it's also a testament to the author's knack for pacing. It's a long book made up of very short chapters, and I got addicted to running from porthole to porthole, peering in at the characters and plot-lines in quick succession. I stayed up way past my bedtime last night, to finish. I think The Emperor's Children is trying to be an old-fashioned novel (the dust-cover praise mentions Wharton, Fitzgerald, and Waugh) about new times and new things. I think that's an interesting goal, in these subjectivity-obsessed times of ours. The narrator is omniscient and removed but all-seeing. The characters span a (fairly) wide range of ages and social backgrounds. The author strives for a timeless, stately tone, too. Most of the time she succeeds. Somebody already pointed out her Jamesian long sentences. Usually it's lovely. She likes to avoid split infinitives by putting the adjective before the infinitive rather than after it ("boldly to go," "naturally to finish"), which sounds a little high-flown, but it works with it. About a third of the way in, I found myself wondering how we are meant to take the characters in this book, as in, how seriously, and how we are to judge them, because there does seem to be an invitation to judgment. (It is, after all, a novel of manners. That's what we're supposed to do with them, right?) Some of the reviewers seem inclined to write the book off because they deem the characters to be shallow, but I think that some degree of shallowness, or hypocrisy, was the point. Actually, I'd like to get into this conversation with someone...is the book supposed to be an indictment of the people in it, or the world it portrays? What's 9/11 doing at the end, anyway, besides being climactic? In the end, I think I enjoyed the novel more as a fast-moving story and as a very vivid collection of details from disparate worlds than I did as a commentary on social life or a portrait of inner life, if that makes sense. Even though some of the characters failed to inspire my sympathy at times, I continued to be curious about what was going to happen to them next. More than anything else, what struck me was Claire Messud's facility with details. We get the minutest descriptions of the inside of a grubby shared college house, right down to the slimy chain you have to plunge your hand into the tank to retrieve before flushing, and then the precise contents of the fridge at an Upper West Side apartment facing the Park, then the exact books and CDs on the shelves of a 30-year-old working woman's studio. For every detail that seemed a little bit off, and there were a few that I was inclined to cavil at because they don't match MY reality, there were a handful of others that made me think, 'my god! She's not supposed to KNOW this stuff!' In any case, I'll doubtless think about this book often if only because the building where the character Danielle Minkoff, the book's moral center, was supposed to have lived really exists, and is clearly visible from the corner where I catch the subway to come home from work. Writers about New York City have a peculiar advantage and disadvantage that way, it seems. There are a lot of eyes in this city, and while everybody likes reading about something they have a personal experience of, everybody's quick to jump on the person who gets it even a little bit wrong. I'm a New Yorker (five-ish years here?) and nearing 30 and while I don't feel that Marina's, Julius's, or even Danielle's world maps perfectly onto mine, it'd be churlish not to admit that there are a few points of contact, or that reading about the familiar/unfamiliar world these characters inhabit isn't good fun.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    There are several things that I did not like about this book. For starters, the writing style and language used was rather arrogant, pompous, and supercilious. Do you get my point? She used multiple adjectives that mean the same thing and also used words that sound like they were straight out of Dawson's Creek. NO ONE talks like that! I think she may have spent more time looking up fancier ways to phrase things rather than on the plot. I didn't like this book from the beginning and it killed me There are several things that I did not like about this book. For starters, the writing style and language used was rather arrogant, pompous, and supercilious. Do you get my point? She used multiple adjectives that mean the same thing and also used words that sound like they were straight out of Dawson's Creek. NO ONE talks like that! I think she may have spent more time looking up fancier ways to phrase things rather than on the plot. I didn't like this book from the beginning and it killed me trying to get through it. I'm not the type to stop reading a book that I started, so I did make it to the end. By the time I was halfway through the book I couldn't have cared less what happened. Then, once I finished it, I closed the book and said "what the...?" The characters were also impossible to relate to. They are all so egotistical and, not to mention, crazy. And one more (minor) thing. You don't have to name each chapter. It gets kind of pointless when you're naming them "4th of July (1)," "4th of July (2)," "4th of July (3)," etc.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    We've all caught glimpses of them before, but Claire Messud has captured and pinned under glass members of a striking subspecies of the modern age: the smart, sophisticated, anxious young people who think of themselves as the cultural elite. Trained for greatness in the most prestigious universities, these shiny liberal arts graduates emerge with expensive tastes, the presumption of entitlement and no real economic prospects whatsoever. If you're one of them or if you can't resist the delicious We've all caught glimpses of them before, but Claire Messud has captured and pinned under glass members of a striking subspecies of the modern age: the smart, sophisticated, anxious young people who think of themselves as the cultural elite. Trained for greatness in the most prestigious universities, these shiny liberal arts graduates emerge with expensive tastes, the presumption of entitlement and no real economic prospects whatsoever. If you're one of them or if you can't resist the delicious pleasure of pitying them, you'll relish every page of The Emperor's Children . The three wunderkinds at the center of Messud's engrossing satire are friends from Brown, strutting through life with élan but also with a sense of floundering that chafes at them like a new pair of Christian Louboutin shoes. Julius Clarke, a freelance critic for the Village Voice, is "aware that at thirty he stretched the limits of the charming wastrel, that some actual sustained endeavor might be in order were he not to fade, wisplike, away." Danielle Minkoff works as a producer of documentary films, but she's not having any luck selling her ideas (the Australian revolution? liposuction malpractice?). Marina Thwaite, the gorgeous daughter of a celebrity journalist, is one of the "it" girls of New York, but she's never actually done anything. A job, she tells her father, would "make me ordinary, like everybody else." For several years, she's maintained the illusion of purpose by procrastinating on a vacuous work of cultural criticism about the history of children's clothing. Having spent her advance and outlasted three editors, she's fallen into paralysis. Yes, they're spoiled, they're self-absorbed, and they're whiny, but above all else they're irresistibly clever and endowed with the kind of hyper-analytical minds that make them fascinating critics of each other and themselves. We join this flawlessly drawn triangle just before the arrival of Marina's flabby cousin, Bootie, from Watertown, N.Y., light years away from the glamour of Manhattan. Antisocial and self-righteous, Bootie has dropped out of college ("full of jabbering fools") to pursue his own program of reading and radical self-reliance. Having long admired Marina's famous father from afar, he drives to New York City to see him, clutching a copy of Emerson's essays. Messud has perfected a narrative voice that simultaneously reveals her characters' thoughts and mocks them. "Like Una in The Faerie Queene ," she writes, "Bootie, too, needed to discern the route to wisdom. He was, he decided, like a pilgrim in the old days, a pilgrim in search of knowledge." Marina's father, Murray Thwaite, the regal figure around which all these characters orbit, is Messud's masterpiece. A journalist who's been skating on his reputation for decades, Murray is the quintessential public intellectual, the moral conscience of the age (a pompous old windbag and a serial adulterer). "Integrity is everything, it's all you've got" he tells a young journalism student he hopes to sleep with. "If you have a voice, a gift, you're morally bound to exploit it." He's burnt to such a crisp under Messud's laser wit that real-life windbags all over New York may want to keep their heads down till the smoke clears. Murray is only too eager to welcome Bootie into his home: "My amanuensis," he announces, "like Pound and Yeats." But Bootie, the pompous rube, is too naive, too childish to see his hero up close without suffering the kind of disillusionment that inspires vengeance. Beneath the rich surface of this comedy of manners runs Messud's attention to "authenticity": its importance, its elusiveness and the myriad tricks of self-delusion we pursue to imagine we possess it in greater degree than our friends and family. Marina and her gang think they'll shake the world awake and then conquer it with their disruptive candor, but, smart as they are, they're too trapped in the bubble of their own vanity. Messud is that bold spectator in the crowd willing to shout out that the emperor has no clothes -- and neither do his children. A number of gifted young people in New York will luxuriate in the masochistic pleasure of reading this novel. (Their indulgent parents -- skewered here, too -- may find it somewhat less enjoyable.) Messud's real audience, though, is broader, in the same way that Edith Wharton focused on a particularly rarefied class but spoke to any reader who could relish her piercing cultural commentary. For us, Messud's novel, so arch and elegantly phrased, is a chance to enter a world in which everything glistens with her wit, like waking to an early frost: refreshing, enchanting and deadly. The disaster that concludes the novel isn't particularly surprising -- we're in New York City, 2001, after all -- and neither is the fact that these characters, except for Bootie, emerge from the terrorist assaults essentially unaffected. That may be Messud's most damning comment on these entitled young people. They're inert, suspended between great expectations and a desperate fear of failure. As the joys of adolescence grow more impossible to retain, adulthood presses on them like something terminal. Late in the book Danielle wonders if growing up is "a process of growing away from mirth, as if, like an amphibian, one ceased to breathe in the same way: laughter, once vital sustenance, protean relief and all that made isolation and struggle and fear bearable was replaced by the stolid matter of stability. . . . Where there had been laughter, there came a cold breeze." The most remarkable quality of Messud's writing may be its uncanny blend of maturity and mirth. Somehow, she can stand in that chilly wind blowing on us all and laugh. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca McNutt

    This book's summary boasts a spectacular story, but the writing was flat, the characters were unlikable and difficult to relate to, and the author herself seems to have hated the characters during this book's writing, giving them such wretched lives without reason that it just comes off as depressing and unrealistic.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chris Dietzel

    Maybe the best example I've ever found of the disconnect between what the average reader enjoys and what literary critics say is good.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Yulia

    This is my generation, what can I say? Educated in the best of institutions, overburdened by self-analysis, underemployed, wondering what it will all lead to after our parents have cut the umbilical cord finally. How could it not resonate?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Williams

    I had wanted to read this book for a long time and chose it for my book club. This was a very hard book to read, very hard to care about the characters but it took me over 1/2 through the book to start to be interested in the characters. This book had a lot of words on a page and a lot of "big" words. The story in relation to the title was very interesting and I've read this is being made into a movie which was another reason i wanted to read it and I'm sure it will be a good movie. All the char I had wanted to read this book for a long time and chose it for my book club. This was a very hard book to read, very hard to care about the characters but it took me over 1/2 through the book to start to be interested in the characters. This book had a lot of words on a page and a lot of "big" words. The story in relation to the title was very interesting and I've read this is being made into a movie which was another reason i wanted to read it and I'm sure it will be a good movie. All the characters were very interesting. The only one I really felt bad for was "Bootie". All the others brought their problems on themselves.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marc Kozak

    EVERYONE IN NEW YORK HAS SEX WITH EACH OTHER. Also, this is an actual sentence: "But for right now, on the Sunday evening the week after the wedding, it just felt as though she were married not to a man but to The Monitor; or rather, that she was not married at all, because it was after nine p.m. and she had packed in hours ago - the issue in all its glory wouldn't be sent to the printer until Tuesday night and her part was done, for this first time at least, and the pieces for her section in the EVERYONE IN NEW YORK HAS SEX WITH EACH OTHER. Also, this is an actual sentence: "But for right now, on the Sunday evening the week after the wedding, it just felt as though she were married not to a man but to The Monitor; or rather, that she was not married at all, because it was after nine p.m. and she had packed in hours ago - the issue in all its glory wouldn't be sent to the printer until Tuesday night and her part was done, for this first time at least, and the pieces for her section in the second issue edited and ready to go, and only Ludo still had tweaking and fussing and frankly obsessing to do, because the issue was finished, even for him, there was nothing to be done, it was Sunday night for God's sake and the final checks could be made on Monday, or even Tuesday, even till late Tuesday night if need be blah blah blah blah blah blah blah..." What is this book about???? For fun I started saying "in bed" every time there was a comma. Ludo still had fussing and frankly obsessing to do in bed, because the issue was finished in bed, even for him in bed, there was nothing to be done in bed, it was Sunday night for God's sake and the final checks could be made on Monday in bed, or even Tuesday in bed, even till late Tuesday night if need be!!!! In bed!!!!! Bed office! So much productivity in bed! Fuck yeah, time to work in bed! Give me that checkbook, I'm making it rain in bed! Avoid avoid avoid avoid.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    A last minute, impulsive buy at the airport, en route to France, that I thought I remembered reading really good things about. I read it on the plane, I read it in hotels, I read it on the train. At first, I thought, "she writes well and this is good." I have children younger than those in the book, so was interested in the fates and trajectories of her characters, even though several of them were pretty unlikeable. The more I read, the more I kept waiting for the good parts. By the time it ende A last minute, impulsive buy at the airport, en route to France, that I thought I remembered reading really good things about. I read it on the plane, I read it in hotels, I read it on the train. At first, I thought, "she writes well and this is good." I have children younger than those in the book, so was interested in the fates and trajectories of her characters, even though several of them were pretty unlikeable. The more I read, the more I kept waiting for the good parts. By the time it ended, I knew there were no good parts. Who the hell WERE these people and why was I spending time with them? Did the author know who they were? Dear reader, I think not. In spite of the fact that Messud can pen a wicked sentence or two, she apparently can't stick them together to make that complex thing called a book. Still, reading The Emperor's Children occupied several hours that might have been spent worrying about late arrivals, train strikes, missed planes, key clothing items left at home. That's got to count for something.

  23. 4 out of 5

    M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews

    As I did not finish this book, I debated with myself whether I should give this 1 or 2 stars. I want to be fair after all, not having read the whole book. Why did I stop reading, you ask? The purple prose. The god damn fucking purple prose. Two chapters in, and ultimately I decided that life was too short to slog through overly verbose descriptions about shallow people and their actions/decisions. There were so many paragraphs here that could have been easily condensed into two sentences and stil As I did not finish this book, I debated with myself whether I should give this 1 or 2 stars. I want to be fair after all, not having read the whole book. Why did I stop reading, you ask? The purple prose. The god damn fucking purple prose. Two chapters in, and ultimately I decided that life was too short to slog through overly verbose descriptions about shallow people and their actions/decisions. There were so many paragraphs here that could have been easily condensed into two sentences and still not lost their meaning. It's obvious the author worked hard on this, but it also feels like she abused a thesaurus and tried to be as... um, 'literary' as possible by using descriptions she likely thought sounded intelligent, but ultimately fell flat.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Galen Johnson

    This book follows three Brown graduates at that crossroads of turning 30, trying to reach their potential and somewhat confused about why they haven't. SO disappointing that there wasn't much insight associated with this book...I was really looking forward to reading it, being a Brown graduate who just dealt with reaching my 30s and having read fantastic reviews of the book. Aside: Why did Messud have to pick on Brown??? There are shallow failures from every school. Okay, enough personal complai This book follows three Brown graduates at that crossroads of turning 30, trying to reach their potential and somewhat confused about why they haven't. SO disappointing that there wasn't much insight associated with this book...I was really looking forward to reading it, being a Brown graduate who just dealt with reaching my 30s and having read fantastic reviews of the book. Aside: Why did Messud have to pick on Brown??? There are shallow failures from every school. Okay, enough personal complaining. I found the writing to be good, but it didn't sweep me away. The characters were boring, obsessed with themselves and their ideas, but not so much with others. They see their function as contributing their ideas, rather than their energy or labor, to society, which might be alright if their ideas were more useful. If Messud's goal was a satire of self-important Ivy-Leaguers, she was effective, but I got the impression that she really thought she had developed meaningful characters that people could learn from. Hmmm. I was somewhat disappointed in how Messud used September 11 in her book--it is interesting to see how authors are approaching this (kind of interested in one reviewer's dissertation). I felt like she used it as a further excuse for her characters to do nothing, rather than as a real turning point for any of them. Again, being in the age group, a graduate of Brown, and thus acquainted with many people this age who are Ivy League graduates, I found these characters to be a poor representation--I think many people this age, of whatever background, are much more self-possessed, self-motivated, and more conscious of their role in society than these characters, most of whom I would probably actively avoid at parties. Most people learn from their introspection and from those around them, something these characters didn't master. If this was meant to be a satire, it fell short, and if it was meant to be an actual examination of these characters, if fell incredibly short. I might be forgetting some details of the book, because I traded it at the used book store almost immediately upon completion, but my overall impression of this entire book was failure: failure of the characters to realize that WORK is required to reach goals, even if you are smart and well-educated, failure of the writer to differentiate among types of failure among the characters, failure of the writing to move beyond good to amazing. Perhaps most mysteriously, failure of the NYT book review to properly categorize this book as half-rate chick-lit.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte Guzman

    Ok, I am giving this book 2 1/2 stars. Ugh! This book was picked for my ladies book club and I really wanted to like it but ended up not caring for it at all. The story about 3 to 4 thirty something people who had no idea what they wanted in life. They had the opportunity to do something in life but seemed to be in angst as to what to do to fulfill this endeavor. The author wrote with such high brow words and way too many adjectives to describe the characters and their situations. Didn't care fo Ok, I am giving this book 2 1/2 stars. Ugh! This book was picked for my ladies book club and I really wanted to like it but ended up not caring for it at all. The story about 3 to 4 thirty something people who had no idea what they wanted in life. They had the opportunity to do something in life but seemed to be in angst as to what to do to fulfill this endeavor. The author wrote with such high brow words and way too many adjectives to describe the characters and their situations. Didn't care for it. She reminded me of Jonathan Frazen who I have tried to like also but just don't. Their stories are full of characters I just don't care for. The only redeemable part of this story was at the end of the story when one character decided to leave everyone and start his life on his own. Not staying in touch with any of them. Given the way these other people were, I didn't blame him. Of course this is my opinion and wouldn't tell anyone NOT to read this book. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kirsty

    After adoring Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs, and very much enjoying her latest novel, The Burning Girl, which I read in Florida last year, I was keen to pick up another of her books.  I chose a gorgeous Picador Classics edition of The Emperor's Children, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  The novel is set in New York in 2001, when 'the whole world shifts'.  In it, Messud explores 'how utterly we are defined by the times in which we live.' The Independent on Sunday calls Messud's After adoring Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs, and very much enjoying her latest novel, The Burning Girl, which I read in Florida last year, I was keen to pick up another of her books.  I chose a gorgeous Picador Classics edition of The Emperor's Children, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  The novel is set in New York in 2001, when 'the whole world shifts'.  In it, Messud explores 'how utterly we are defined by the times in which we live.' The Independent on Sunday calls Messud's 2006 novel 'a masterpiece', and The Times deems it 'thrillingly real, alive and utterly convincing... [an] intensely pleasurable reminder of the possibilities of the English language'.  The New York Times concurs, writing that 'Messud does a nimble, quicksilver job of portraying her central characters from within and without - showing us their pretensions, frailties and self-delusions, even as she delineates their secret yearnings and fears.'  It is, promises its blurb, a novel which 'brings us face to face with the enduring gap between who we are and who we long to be.' The Emperor's Children focuses on four characters, three of whom - Danielle Minkoff, Marina Thwaite, and Julius Clarke - became firm friends whilst studying at Brown University during the 1990s.  They are 'young, bright New Yorkers living at America's beating heart in the early years of the twenty-first century', and are joined.  The fourth character is Marina's socially awkward cousin, Frederick Tubb, who is known as Bootie.  He is 'fresh from the provinces and keen to make his mark' on the world.  His arrival causes the three other protagonists to 'confront their desires and leaves them dangerously exposed.'  Also examined in part are the parents of Danielle, Marina, and Bootie.  Danielle is working as a television producer, Julius makes his living by taking temporary secretarial job, and moneyed Marina has been procrastinating by halfheartedly working on a book for several years.  In his introduction to the volume, Neel Mukherjee describes Marina as the 'aimless daughter of the Thwaites, casting about for something to do and using her ongoing project of writing a book about Americans dress their children... as a kind of displacement activity'.  He calls Julius a 'gay, sharp, bitchy, and... self-invented man'.  Danielle is perhaps, in this way, the only one of the three friends who is making a success of her life, but her story is fraught with problems too.  Bootie has been used as 'one of the oldest tropes in storytelling', as 'a stranger who turns everyone's life upside down'. Messud's character descriptions are wonderful.  When introducing Bootie's mother, for instance, she writes: 'she felt she walked into the light: the two large windows cast a shadowless opalescence onto the sprigged wallpaper, the family photos on top of the bureau.  Even her discarded stockings, still carrying from yesterday the shape of her solid limbs, appeared outlined in light, luminous.  Her hands and her hair, a grayed cloud, had carried up from the kitchen the smell of coffee, and the vents at her ankles pushed a warm wind around the floor.  In spite of Bootie, in spite, in spite, in this moment at least, she felt happy: she was not too old to love even the snow.'   Messud is so involved with her characters and their quirks of personality throughout, that one comes to know them intimately.  Throughout the novel, she places very in depth portrayals and explorations of self.  Of Marina, she writes: 'She sometimes felt as though she were a changeling, as hough someone completely new had taken on the identity of Marina Thwaite  - or rather, as if someone who was seen from the outside to be completely new had done so, while beneath the surface she remained unchanged.'  When discussing Julius, Messud notes: 'He was aware that at thirty he stretched the limits of the charming wastrel, that some actual sustained endeavor might be in order were he not to fade, wisplike, away: from charming wastrel to needy, boring failure was but a few, too few, short steps.'  Her characters are not entirely likeable, and some are almost odious in their privilege and behaviour. In consequence, I found all of Messud's protagonists, and indeed the secondary figures who orbit around them, wholly believable. A masterful quality in the novel is the way in which Messud focuses upon the nuances and tiny shifts in relationships, which still have the power to alter them irrevocably.  The Emperor's Children is not overly plot heavy; whilst things happen, particularly toward the final third of the novel, Messud is more interested in the reactions which her characters have to sudden, or brooding, changes in their situations. There is, as anyone familiar with Messud's writing might expect, an awful lot about morality and politics woven into The Emperor's Children.  Of this, Mukherjee writes: 'Messud's novel is political in the most inclusive, most intelligent understanding of that notion - it looks at the private sphere, at how individuals live in the world, how they conduct their lives, what their moral codes are, to give an indication of the bigger, wider world and the matrix of history in which these private lives are necessarily situated, the private and the public at once shaping and being shaped by each other.'  He goes on to say: 'The questions it poses are enormous and profound.  What is a person's true, authentic self?  Does a life need to be lived in continuous connection with that?  What if the truest idea we have of our true selves is a false one, or one held in bad faith?  Are our notions of authenticity confected, too?'  Whilst Mukherjee's introduction is insightful, and certainly complements the novel, I would recommend that one reads it after finishing the novel, as it is rather revealing, and contains a lot of detailed commentary upon Messud's characters and plot points. Before beginning The Emperor's Children, I was surprised to see so many negative reviews of it smattered on its Goodreads page.  I am so pleased that I ignored these and read it regardless, as I ended up absolutely loving it, and found something to admire on every page.  Messud's writing provides a breath of fresh air, and gives one the ability to see characters and events, such as 9/11, from different angles.  She is a unique author in many ways, but her prose style at times reminded me of Donna Tartt and Zoe Heller, merely due to the weight which it holds within its words.  I can see why some might think that Messud's prose is overwritten, but I found it both rich and sumptuous, as well as entirely absorbing.  There is so much which can be unpicked within its pages, and I am sure that I will be thinking about it for months to come. The Emperor's Children is a phenomenal, searching novel, filled with profound meditations on life.  Everything within it has been wonderfully handled, and it provokes thought at every turn.  She also writes with poignant and moving language of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, which profoundly affect every character.  As with her other books, I was absolutely blown away with this novel.  Messud is an interesting, original writer, and I very much look forward to exploring the rest of her oeuvre in the near future.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    On the cover of this book about people living in New York it says this book received the honor of "best book of the year" from the New York Times. Talk about navel contemplation, because I truly cannot understand why this book won any awards. The book is borderline horrid. It's as if each character is like the writer character in Sideways, so painful to watch that it's tempting to turn off the movie. Too much detail, too much wining, too much fuss about everything that takes away from the basic On the cover of this book about people living in New York it says this book received the honor of "best book of the year" from the New York Times. Talk about navel contemplation, because I truly cannot understand why this book won any awards. The book is borderline horrid. It's as if each character is like the writer character in Sideways, so painful to watch that it's tempting to turn off the movie. Too much detail, too much wining, too much fuss about everything that takes away from the basic character development. It's an example of another good story idea that is ruined w/ way too much interal charcter dialogue. I want a story w/ a point or that gives me something to take away. New York is one of my favorite cities and this book gave the city a bad taste. The real kicker is when at the very end 9/11 is brought into the story. Is that why the book was given an award - because it talked about the struggles of new yorkers post 9/11? All 70 pages out of 500?? And in comparison to the real horrors of that day - the stories told in this book are shameful in their absolute lack of reality and enormity. How can a city, at the core of that tragic event, acknowledge a book that is mocking in its attempt to explain that emotion, with such an award? The characters in the book were upset about an affair ending w/ a married man, their husband not acting like a newlywed, their magazine being cancelled, and the worst offense, taking advantage of all the horror to fake ones own death. It is completly disrespectful to those who had true horror on that day. There are moments, outside of the 9/11 factor that she adds, where Messudit gets what it's like to feel like an island of a person and tells it truthfully. The rest, well it seemed like she was being paid by the word and not with the presentation of an actual novel.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I was excited to read this book since it had so much "buzz" surrounding it. While it was fine and read quickly, I found myself wondering "who cares?" None of the characters were particularly likeable and the plot wasn't very interesting.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    It's no secret how The Emperor's Children will end. Claire Messud's novel follows a group of New Yorkers, all connected in some way, during the summer and fall of 2001, culminating with the terrorist attacks of September 11. The tragedy is unavoidable and, for the reader, completely foreseen. But this isn't a book about September 11. Messud doesn't rely on or construct her story around the impending disaster like, say, something like Titanic does. What's important here is not that the tragedy oc It's no secret how The Emperor's Children will end. Claire Messud's novel follows a group of New Yorkers, all connected in some way, during the summer and fall of 2001, culminating with the terrorist attacks of September 11. The tragedy is unavoidable and, for the reader, completely foreseen. But this isn't a book about September 11. Messud doesn't rely on or construct her story around the impending disaster like, say, something like Titanic does. What's important here is not that the tragedy occurs, but how it changes the characters, how it suddenly reveals who they really are, and how it echoes some of the novel's main themes, particularly this: You are not as important or invulnerable as you think you are. Three ambitious, idealistic friends from college (Marina, Danielle, and Julius) are now thirty years old, struggling with the creeping doubt that their lives are destined to be ordinary after all. Marina's pretending to write a book for which she's already spent her entire advance. Danielle's a television producer, frustrated at having to curb her abstract ideas for higher ratings. Julius, after a successful stint as a cultural critic, now merely plays at being in the "it crowd." To make matters worse, they all live under the long shadow of Murray Thwaite, Marina's father, a wildly popular journalist and social activist, who is similarly, and secretly, lost. As much a novel about growing up as it is about the illusions of power, The Emperor's Children alternates between each character, giving the reader glances of their insecurities and fears. When Messud introduces two other people to this world, things go slowly awry. With long, fluid sentences, she describes these polite betrayals and social hypocrisy beautifully, but Messud's characters are not nearly as captivating and charismatic as she wants them to be, and we're stuck inside their rambling thoughts, which are often repetitive. It's not that The Emperor's Children has no clothes, it's just that its clothes aren't as shiny as you may have heard. "Wasn't irrelevance, smallness, the dutiful petty life what everyone ultimately wanted to shed? And wasn't shedding as important as embracing, in the formation of an adult self?"

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan E

    I was forewarned about this book, yet it was something we were reading for my book group, so I found my way through it... I am sorry I did. Seldom has a novel been so annoying and offensive to me. The author created completely unlikeable characters that she seemed to hold in distain as well. She had to tell the reader why they were flawed, too, instead of letting us figure it out on our own. She had unkind things to say about the part of NY I hail from, making the most vexing characters come from I was forewarned about this book, yet it was something we were reading for my book group, so I found my way through it... I am sorry I did. Seldom has a novel been so annoying and offensive to me. The author created completely unlikeable characters that she seemed to hold in distain as well. She had to tell the reader why they were flawed, too, instead of letting us figure it out on our own. She had unkind things to say about the part of NY I hail from, making the most vexing characters come from there as well. And the idea that attending a well-known Ivy League college was the only way to be successful and important in NYC... like Manhattan is the center of the universe. Obviously, it was for these characters... if they were real people, I would feel sorry for them. The first 411 pages seemed like backstory for 9/11. I kept waiting for this pivotal moment, thinking the whiny folks I had come to detest might redeem themselves in some way. But no. I would put this book right into my "To Sell" pile... instead, I may just abandon it on the side of the road somewhere.

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