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The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

The Emperor's Children (2006)

by Claire Messud

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3,115982,757 (3.16)116
Friends at Brown University, Marina, Danielle, and Julius are still looking to make their marks as they approach their 30s. Marina lives with her celebrated parents on the Upper West Side while trying to complete her book. TV producer Danielle's success is due to the puff pieces she churns out. Freelance critic Julius can barely make ends meet. Into this mix comes Bootie, Marina's college droupout cousin, who is just the catalyst the three friends need to start making siginificant changes in their lives.… (more)

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English (91)  French (3)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Hebrew (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (98)
Showing 1-5 of 91 (next | show all)
Tried to read this twice and just can't get going. Should have checked out its rating here on Goodreads first! Oh well.... ( )
  LizBurkhart | Sep 5, 2019 |
When I came across this novel at a library fundraising sale I didn’t know how polarizing it is. People in the publishing world love it (not surprising since both are New York city-centric) and people in the regular world don’t. At least that’s how it looks on the surface. While I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it either. For a book about three young, elite fuck ups and one young, non-elite fuck up, it has its redeeming qualities. If you can get over and around the unwieldy sentence structure. A model of clear writing Messud is not. Ironically she has Marina’s father Murray give her this advice about writing - “Clarity is key.” p 71

I also caught too many words and phrases that Brits and possibly Canadians use, but that American’s don’t. “Over the road” instead of across the street, “bobble” instead of pom-pom (the thing on a hat), “Meccano” should be Erector Set or possibly Tinker-toy, we would put our shoes in the closet not the cupboard. Stuff like that is easy to edit out and rankled every time I found one - lazy.

There is a lot of character and scene setting that has to be got through. Between that and the congested writing I almost didn’t, but then the stories started getting interesting and I stuck with it. Lo and behold some of them grow up. It’s a slice of life type of book with an open ending only because life is like that and there wasn’t a specific goal to the action.

My notes on characters and situations as I read - mild spoilers!

Julius = overblown sense of himself and weirdly a pretty strong streak of self-loathing, he is surprised he’s still an unrecognized genius, having no life to make him interesting will try David’s patience, I think. Vigorously destroying the relationship he says he wants so much (and has engineered to occur). The self-loathing turned to self-destruction and the bathroom hook up was too much. D’s reaction was harsh, but J was asking for something dramatic and he got it.

Marina = so used to her looks getting her everything she wants that she has developed nothing else in the way of talent/expertise and now her looks are fading things could get dire. The future with Ludo will be trying and difficult as she is coming to realize post-9/11 and the demise of his great ambition. At least she used his angle to finish her stupid book and good for her for going ahead with publication despite daddy’s withering advice.

Danielle = nervous ninny with a surprising lack of salesmanship or real belief in her projects that is not good for a documentary film producer. Her fling with M was really icky and desperate, but the 9/11 disaster gave her cover for her meltdown when he went to Annabel on the day of the attacks. What else did she think he’d do?

Bootie = muddled thinker mistaking disdain for rugged individualism, has a really odd idea of self-reliance (sponging off Uncle Murray and Aunt Annabel), horrendously selfish and cruel in the end. So childish and inexperienced in his judgement of Murray, who of course isn’t a perfect being; surprise! - he’s human. What an idiot. Doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and is too blind and full of hubris to know he doesn’t.

Murray = the Emperor, a man of consequence who either inspires admiration or condemnation depending on your situation. He’s an institution to some extent and not still full of new ideas or thinking, but that pretty much is part of being human. We tend to wind down and get comfortable in our ruts as we age. Almost everyone who knows him changes opinions on him as the book progresses; mostly for the worse. As a character I found him remote and difficult to relate to. ( )
  Bookmarque | Aug 26, 2019 |
A tale of New York's intellectual elite leading up to 9/11. In fact, I decided 9/11 wasn't actually going to show up in the novel after a while and thought maybe I remembered the wrong review. Anyway, the book is a case of the poor little rich girl except not every one is rich and not every one is a girl, but you get the idea. They torture themselves with not being brilliant enough, with not being young enough, with not being loved enough, etc. Most of the action revolves around an elder celebrated journalist of the baby boom generation. While he wrenched himself from his small town (WI?) upbringing and molded himself into the truth telling adventurer, his daughter has languished - beautiful, brilliant, but unable to accomplish a thing. Her best friend is often relegated to her shadow until she is able to supplant the daughter in an affair with the father. Then there's the gay friend, also languishing, until he finds 'love' and ends up even more tortured. Maybe none of this sounds terribly tempting, but Messud writes those quick chapters that jump from perspective to perspective and successfully keep me reading. I found the characters compelling despite themselves (I didn't mention one of the main drivers of the story - the young cousin from said small town). In fact, I like them and respected them for the truths they mirrored. PS She did have a very odd writing style, her sentences built upon themselves each idea being modified in a rolling pyramid of words. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
Viewed from a distance The Emperor's Children could be mistaken for another hackneyed tale of self-absorbed twentysomethings coming of age in the big city. It is in fact a sharp, artful group portrait in which each protagonist, every action and motivation is convincing. Messud's drawing of character is vivid and utterly real; her shifting scenes and perspectives may be cinematic, but her sentences are Proustian and poetic. Subtle, clear-eyed and critical, The Emperor's Children is a brilliant snapshot of a society hovering on the brink of history. ( )
  Lirmac | Mar 28, 2019 |
This does not deserve four stars. I suspect some intrinsic fissure is to blame for a rasher of characters that I uniformly loathed. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
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“Darlings! Welcome! And you must be Danielle?” Sleek and small, her wide eyes rendered enormous by kohl, Lucy Leverett, in spite of her resemblance to a baby seal, rasped impressively.
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