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The Emperor's Children Paperback – June 26, 2007
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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Perfect Paperback edition.
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 friendsDanielle, a television producer, and Julius, a gay freelance criticare 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?
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Perfect Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
The Emperor's Children focuses on a group of 30-year-old friends who have not yet managed to come fully into adulthood: Marina Thwaite, living at home again and trying to finish a book to which she is no longer committed; Danielle Minkoff, who produces documentaries but cannot get the funding to make them on the subjects about which she is passionate; and Julius Clarke, who writes reviews for the Village Voice but mostly supports himself with temp work. Even some of the sentences from these characters' perspectives seem to share their lack of direction: they wander off into parentheticals and asides and have to be brought forcibly back to the conclusion. Messud handles the awkwardness of their relationships with their parents (and each others' parents) with insight and humor, and does an effective job of conveying their frustration at still being unsettled at an age when they expected to be fully established and to have done great things.
But there is a larger social commentary in the novel. Like War and Peace, to which Messud's characters refer frequently, The Emperor's Children opens with a party at which there is talk of revolution: in this case a cultural revolution that Ludovic Seeley, an Australian editor about to move to New York, wants to bring about by deflating popular beliefs as myths. One of his primary targets is Marina's father, Murray Thwaite--his first and last name are almost always used together in the way of celebrities--a famed liberal journalist who sees no contradiction in the fact that his personal ethics do not rise to the level of his public ones. And there is also Murray's nephew, Frederick "Bootie" Tubb, who at 19 wants to be an intellectual but finds college a farce, who sees in Murray the embodiment of his ideals and who brings to the novel a dangerous mixture of idealism and rage.
Messud's characters talk, in sharp, clever dialogue, about entitlement and morality as they struggle with their personal dilemmas. But our knowledge of the approach of September 11 gives them an overarching innocence to which they are oblivious: we feel it rushing toward them, but it comes upon them as it came upon us five years ago, as a cataclysm, altering their perceptions of everything in their lives. Messud's characters may be the emperor's children, forced suddenly to look at the world stripped bare of some of their most precious illusions--but she reminds us, with this wrenching work, that so too were we. A stunning, richly metaphoric novel.