Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

After I wrote about Love, Work, Children, by Cheryl Mendelson, a friend said to me “Well, if you hated that one, you will really hate The Emperor’s Children.” Never one to just take advice unquestioningly, I had to see for myself. I’m glad to say that I didn’t hate this book. Yes, it has a lot of privileged people who sit around alternately thinking about how special they are, or feeling sorry for themselves, but that’s balanced by some more outward-looking characters who can see that the emperor has no clothes, as it were.

I do like a book with a lot of interconnected characters, and story lines that weave around each other, and this book has that. Most of the characters are likable, and even the unlikable ones are fully formed, not paper cutouts. At times I even managed to feel sorry for Marina, who is, with the exception of her father Murray, the most unlikable character in the book.

This is the first novel I’ve read that includes the events of September 11, 2001, though I know others have been written in the last few years. I was a little nervous about how this would play out, but Messud handles it well. The event proves a catalyst for great changes in the characters’ lives (as it did in real life) but everything is believable, and not overdone.

I looked at reviews on Amazon just now and it seems that a lot of people think this book is overrated or overhyped. I mostly agree with them, though I don’t think it’s as bad as some say it is. Several people complained about Messud’s habit of writing really long sentences. Yes, sometimes I had to look back at the beginning of the sentence to remember what she was talking about at the end. It didn’t bother me; in fact, I found it endearing.

If I had had really high hopes for this book this would be a nastier post. But having begun reading with the expectation of hating it, I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe that should be my new approach.

(Book 6, 2008)


Doreen Orion said...

Approach each new book the way most people approach holiday dinners with family. That IS a way not to be too disappointed. It would probably only make you want to read one book a year, not a week, though.

If it's any consolation, after reading your post, I won't be reading this book! (But, I'll still go home for the holidays. Oh, well.)

Post a Comment