Monday, January 31, 2011

Book review: The Emperor's Children

Messud, Claire. The Emperor's Children. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Half way through this title. I was convinced I didn't like it. The characters were all New Yorkers deciding to do bad or stupid things, particularly Booty, who seemed self-destructive in particular. Midway through the book, Booty, a 19-year-old college dropout come to work with his famous uncle in NYC, makes a horrendously bad decision that just drove me nuts (not unlike me in the 1980s in New York). The Thwaits I didn't care for in particular; the patriarch, Murray, whom we're not supposed to like, is a shallow shell of a character, a journalist of important things who is loved and respected despite his endless compromises. (Maybe it was the narration, but reminded me of a theater professor I had in the 1980s.) His drifting daughter, Marina, falls for an annoying Australian named Ludo who seems hell-bent to bring Murray down, like Ahab and that whole whale thing. Plus, the whole thing takes place before 9/11, so you keep wondering who's going to die. And the omniscient narrator goes on and on about each character's motives and thoughts, to the point you wish we could just get on with it. But by the end, I was won over, partially, because of a couple of key plot twists, and one of the main characters, Danielle, reminds me of an old girlfriend. And the third-person-focused narrative structure, which shifts from character to character, helps build suspense and dramatic irony (you sometimes know more than the character in the spotlight, but you're also left wondering what the other characters know and aren't saying). Anyway, I finished it. It made me feel as if I were still in New York, even as I drove around Tuscaloosa listening to it on my MP3 player.

No comments: