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The Emperor's Children Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 29, 2006

2.8 out of 5 stars 354 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Marina Thwaite, Danielle Minkoff and Julian Clarke were buddies at Brown, certain that they would soon do something important in the world. But as all near 30, Danielle is struggling as a TV documentary maker, and Julius is barely surviving financially as a freelance critic. Marina, the startlingly beautiful daughter of celebrated social activist, journalist and hob-nobber Murray Thwaite, is living with her parents on the Upper West Side, unable to finish her book"titled The Emperor's Children Have No Clothes (on how changing fashions in children's clothes mirror changes in society). Two arrivals upset the group stasis: Ludovic, a fiercely ambitious Aussie who woos Marina to gain entrée into society (meanwhile planning to destroy Murray's reputation), and Murray's nephew, Frederick "Bootie" Tubb, an immature, idealistic college dropout and autodidact who is determined to live the life of a New York intellectual. The group orbits around the post"September 11 city with disconcerting entitlement"and around Murray, who is, in a sense, the emperor. Messud, in her fourth novel, remains wickedly observant of pretensions"intellectual, sexual, class and gender. Her writing is so fluid, and her plot so cleverly constructed, that events seem inevitable, yet the narrative is ultimately surprising and masterful as a contemporary comedy of manners. 100,00 announced first printing; author tour.(Sept. 4)
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From The New Yorker

In this witty examination of New York's chattering classes, which opens in the spring of 2001, the despot of the title is Murray Thwaite, a famous journalist who made his name in the Vietnam era. The next generation, however, is having trouble gaining traction. Murray's daughter, Marina, unable to complete a long-overdue book on the cultural significance of children's clothing, has moved back into her parents' Upper West Side apartment and is doing a lot of yoga. Her two best friends—Danielle, a television producer, and Julius, a gay freelance critic—are similarly ambitious and entitled, without being particularly driven. All three find sex the easiest way to transform themselves. Only Murray's brainy and profoundly disenfranchised nephew from upstate aggressively pursues his belief in the true and the good, but he proves to be a sort of literary terrorist, threatening to blow the family apart. The humorous intimacies of Messud's portraits do not, finally, soften the judgments behind them: If this is what's become of the liberal imagination, is it worth fighting for?
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (August 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030726419X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307264190
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (354 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,109,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ezra Klein on December 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
Every so often, I check into the review page for The Emperor's Children, just to see if anything has changed. I remember stopping by the first time, and being shocked by the poor reviews, and assuming it had to be a temporary twist of the numbers, that the universe will certainly right itself soon enough.

Well, it hasn't. I won't argue with anyone's experiences of the book -- that's far beyond what I can offer. I will say that, as a journalist in DC, it's far and away the most accurate examination of the Eastern intellectual class that I've encountered. Messud is a gorgeous writer whose scenes are deeply observed and hauntingly constructed. The world of the book is specific, to be sure, and it's possible, as you see in the reviews, that many won't relate. But if you went to a small liberal arts college; if you're fascinated, or resentful, or appalled, or attracted, by the pretensions of the self-styled intellectual set; if you like sharply written banter; you can hardly do better than this book.
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Since many reviewers have discussed the story line in detail, I will stick with my overall impressions of what I consider an extremely over hyped disappointing read.

In my opinion, none of the main characters are anywhere near as adorable as the author keeps insisting they are. Their most notable characteristic is a non-stop (and rather interchangeable) flow of campy repartee that might convey intellect, success, pretension, heartbreak, or whatever to someone steeped in their milieu but which kept me at a considerable emotional distance. The doomed idol, Murray Thwaite, in particular is dreadfully flimsy - is this the author's dream of an articulate, handsome, talented, unattainable (for others who wish to be him) Golden Boy. This sort of wish fulfillment at the reader's expense is simply unpalatable to the serious consumer. And, if this was to be a tongue in cheek attempt at humor, it fell far short of the mark.

I agree with other reviewers. It appears the author likes very long sentences; many paragraphs are absolutely incomprehensible. Are we to be impressed with the overuse of commas and dependent clauses so that it often takes two or three readings to render a sentence understandable? If this is the new era of grown-up writing, I'll stick to my mysteries and nonfiction.

But, I kept at it hoping that Messud would indeed pull it off in the end; however, the ending too was quite unsatisfactory. And, the use of the 9/11 tragedy to try to wrap it up is unforgivable. If so many New Yorkers of this age group truly were so wrapped in their own petty self-absorptions during this time period, God save our country. Could any of the characters see outside their own small contrived world? It would appear not. I won't be reading any more of Messud's work.
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Format: Hardcover
You've really got to worry about a novel when a *favourable* reviewer describes the plot's two main set pieces and one of them is when the cat dies. [The Economist, 19 Aug 2006.] Before getting into that, however, try this sample sentence for size:

"He remembered his father's telling him - his father, small as he was himself tall, with sloping shoulders off which Murray feared, as a child, the braces might slip, a bow-tied little man with an almost Hitlerian mustache, softened from menace by its grayness, and by the softness, insidious softness, of his quiet voice, a softness that belied his rigidity and tireless industry, his humorless and ultimately charmless 'goodness' (Why had she married him? She'd been so beautiful, and such fun) - telling him, as he deliberated on his path at Harvard, to choose accounting, or economics, saying, with that dreaded certainty, 'You see, Murray, I know you want to go out and write books or something like that. But only geniuses can be writers, Murray, and frankly son ...'"

[p. 124]

See what I mean about size? Reviewers have already complained about the author's self-interrupting, drunkenly digressive prose style. They are entirely correct to do so. Claire Messud's book is festooned with sentences which are essentially motorway pile-ups of sub-clauses, codicils and parenthetical interpolations. Such a rookie mistake - which makes for hopelessly cumbersome reading - should never have made it past the editor.

The Emperor's Children concerns the lives of Danielle, Marina and Julius, three thirtysomething New York literati and their patriarch, the essayist Murray Thwaite, Marina's father.
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Format: Paperback
Messud's novel, "The Emperor's Children" (2006) is a challenging, if only partially successful, satire of modern urban secularism set in New York City in 2001. In part a comedy of manners and in part a novel of ideas, the book deals diffusely with the pretensions and difficulties of intellectual life.

I think there are two interrelated groups of central characters in the novel. The first group consists of two people: Murray Thwaite, an aging liberal writer and social critic whose opinions and publications have come to command a nation-wide following. Thwaite's wife is an attorney with a career and life of her own, as she specializes in representing troubled young people. Thwaite has a manuscript in his desk which he hopes to publish someday setting forth in aphoristic form the insights he believes he has won over the years into the good life. Thwaite is also a philanderer and becomes involved, in this book, with a 30 year old woman named Danielle, discussed below. Twaite has a nephew, Frederick "Booty" Tubb who has dropped out of college and who reads writers including Emerson and Robert Musil. Thwaite hires Booty as a private secretary, and Booty betrays this trust by writing a highly uncomplimentary article based upon Twaite's draft and unpublished manuscript and on his observations of Thaite's private life.

The second group of main characters consists of three college friends who are about 30 years of age. Thwaite's daughter Mariana is an aspiring writer who has been struggling for several years to complete a book on children's clothing and its impact on society's view of people. Her friend Danielle is an aspiring producer of documentaries. Their common friend Julius is a free-lance writer who struggles to get by writing reviews. (shades of Amazon reviewing!
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