Thursday, March 20, 2008


Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children about three thirty-somethings in New York did not sound appealing to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted more at the end. The personal entanglements and the arrival on the scene of a twenty-something with the unfortunate nickname of Bootie make for great reading. All four of the young characters are career-challenged, in various stages of identity crises, and failing to live up to their own expectations. Clothes are one of the many symbols here, and the characters cloak their true selves in a veneer that is neither admirable nor endearing. Another important character is Murray Thwaite, a famous, charismatic and well-respected personality, father of thirty-something Marina, and perhaps the "emperor" in the title. Messud weaves in a lot of suspense, especially with regard to a long-anticipated 9/11 tie-in. Each time I expected the worst to happen, an eruption of a different sort would occur. Everyone in the book is cheating in some way--Julius on his lover, Murray on his wife, Marina on her publisher. The main theme of the book, though, seems to be whether or not honesty is the best policy. Bootie is brutally honest in some ways, but he is also the least likeable character with his slovenly ways and poor treatment of his mother. He exposes that "the emperor has no clothes" but turns out to be deceitful in the extreme.

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