David's Reviews > The Emperor's Children

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
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Jul 12, 07

bookshelves: hideously-vile-protagonists
Read in January, 2007

I found "The Emperor's Children" incredibly disappointing. The reviews I had read just raved and raved, but I disliked it intensely. Shallow, solipsistic characters about whom I couldn't even bring myself to care - neither could the author apparently, as some were nothing more than lazy ciphers - the guy from Australia, Julius's boyfriend, the wife. Good God, if you are going to stoop to the jaded device of bringing in an alienated outsider to stir things up, please take the time at least to develop the character beyond the level of caricature. And allow him to wear shoes, damn it!


There are already plenty of books in existence in which pompous academic males seduce women half their age. Similarly, there is no shortage of books in which people in their twenties pass their time in self-absorbed navelgazing and low-level whining. Is this ground sufficiently fertile to warrant another visit? On the basis of this over-hyped mess of a book, I'd have to think not.


The most annoying aspect of this book is the lazy way in which Messaud invokes the September 11th attacks as the ultimate deus ex machina to resolve the meandering, not particularly interesting, plot. It's as if tragedy trumps everything, including the author's responsibility to write a story that's credible. Messaud's writing style is fluid and the book is very readable, but given the shallowness of the characters and the author's laziness about the plot, the return on investment of time is low.
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Yulia Hideously vile characters? To me, they were real, so real I identified with parts of each of the main three, and as with real people and myself, also hated parts. Yes, there were flaws, but it spoke to my struggles as an over-educated, navel-gazing individual who is a disappointment to everyone, especially themselves. I give it credit for that.


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