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Emperor's Children (Messud) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
In tracing each of these characters’ trajectories, Ms. 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. At the same time, she uses their stories to explore many of the same questions she explicated so masterfully in The Last Life questions about how an individual hammers out an identity of his or her own under the umbrella of a powerful family, questions about the ways in which people mythologize their own lives and the lives of those they love.
Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times


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.
Ron Charles - THe Washington Post


Marina Thwaite, Danielle Minkoff and Julian Clarke were buddies at Brown, certain that they would soon do something important in the world. But as all near 30, Danielle is struggling as a TV documentary maker, and Julius is barely surviving financially as a freelance critic. Marina, the startlingly beautiful daughter of celebrated social activist, journalist and hob-nobber Murray Thwaite, is living with her parents on the Upper West Side, unable to finish her book—titled The Emperor's Children Have No Clothes (on how changing fashions in children's clothes mirror changes in society). Two arrivals upset the group stasis: Ludovic, a fiercely ambitious Aussie who woos Marina to gain entr e into society (meanwhile planning to destroy Murray's reputation), and Murray's nephew, Frederick "Bootie" Tubb, an immature, idealistic college dropout and autodidact who is determined to live the life of a New York intellectual. The group orbits around the post-September 11 city with disconcerting entitlement—and around Murray, who is, in a sense, the emperor. Messud, in her fourth novel, remains wickedly observant of pretensions—intellectual, sexual, class and gender. Her writing is so fluid, and her plot so cleverly constructed, that events seem inevitable, yet the narrative is ultimately surprising and masterful as a contemporary comedy of manners.
Publishers Weekly


Beautiful, Ivy League-educated, and the daughter of a renowned journalist, Marina Thwaite lives in New York City along with two close friends from Brown: television producer Danielle and freelance writer Julius, who is gay. All three are just barely 30 and making their way into adulthood. Marina has recently broken up with a longtime lover she thought she might marry and is struggling to finish a book whose advance is long spent. Meanwhile, Danielle is returning from an investigative trip to Australia, and Julius is trying to figure out how to make ends meet without admitting to his friends that he's flat broke. Enter Marina's young cousin, Bootie, a college dropout who's decided that life in New York City has got to be better than life in upstate New York. Bootie's arrival in the city is a catalyst for events that will change all their lives forever. Messud's (The Hunters) comedy of manners is extremely well written and features characters that come alive. The reader will be tugged in many directions as these characters' lives intersect in the realms of love, family, friendship, and tragedy. This wonderful read is an insightful look at our time and the decisions people make. Highly recommended.—Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH
Library Journal


A stinging portrait of life among Manhattan's junior glitterati. In March 2001, a decade after they met at Brown, three best friends are finding it hard to be 30. Danielle Minkoff is the most established, although her job in TV news largely entails cranking out puff pieces on the dangers of, say, liposuction. Freelance critic Julius Clarke wonders how much longer a hip social life can substitute for a regular income. They're both strivers from the Midwest, while Marina Thwaite was born into the liberal elite: Father Murray is a crusading journalist, mom Annabel a dedicated social worker. But beautiful Marina is floundering, at sea in the book she's supposedly writing, about children's clothing, living with her parents after the breakup of a long-time romance. Their uneasy stasis is disrupted by two new arrivals. Australian Ludovic Seeley, funded by a Murdoch-like mogul to edit a new magazine, The Monitor, latches onto Marina, giving her the confidence to finish her manuscript as well as its glib title, The Emperor's Children Have No Clothes. College dropout Bootie Tubb, the 19-year-old son of Murray's sister, arrives from Watertown, N.Y., hoping to learn from his famous uncle how to be an intellectual. Bootie is swiftly disillusioned—unsurprisingly, since Murray's self-absorption is surpassed only by that of his daughter, one of the most narcissistic characters in recent fiction. Messud deftly paints the neurotic uncertainties of people who know they're privileged and feel sorry for themselves anyway; she makes her characters human enough so we don't entirely detest them, but overall, they're a distasteful bunch. In this shallow world, the enigmatic but clearly malevolent Ludovic is bound to succeed, even though The Monitor's launch is scuttled by the attack on the World Trade Center. It's a bit disconcerting to find 9/11 so smoothly integrated into the author's thematic concerns and plot development—it believably motivates the breakup of Murray's affair with Danielle—but five years on, perhaps it's time for this catastrophe to enter the realm of worthy fictional material. Intelligent, evocative and unsparing.
Kirkus Reviews




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