Schuyler's Reviews > The Emperor's Children

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
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U 50x66
's review
Jun 25, 2011

really liked it
Read from June 25 to 30, 2011

I find the antipathy expressed here for Messud's novel a little perplexing. While I'm ultimately ambivalent about "The Emperor's Children" (for reasons I'll discuss momentarily), I also recognize that my dissatisfaction with the novel result from things that, were they changed, would seem to fundamentally upend her project. And I respect the book, on the whole. Its characters are both wonderfully real and wonderfully arch. As an approach to a significant historical moment, I find it thrilling--especially because it refuses to transform the moment into spectacle.

But, for me, the final movement of the novel felt awkward and more or less took away nearly all of the pleasure I had reading the first 350 pages. It wasn't an unearned ending. It wasn't anti-climactic or overly melodramatic. It didn't turn treacly. It just sort of was. I think that's largely the point, and, intellectually, I understand this decision. It doesn't mean it was satisfying. And then there was the reliance upon parenthetical clauses, both literal and figurative. While they grew less-grating over time, they never fully lost their frustrating quality. Again, it's a stylistic tic that, I think, is supported by the novel's donée. Still...

And yet I feel compelled to recommend this book (and highly), if only because so many other people are convinced that it's, I dunno, inept, risible, and obnoxious. Moreover, it's one of the few literary novels of the last decade that I feel compelled to discuss with others ("John Henry Days," "Gilead," "Chronic City," and "From a Buick 8" join it on a very short list).

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