The Emperor's Children
Claire Messud
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Buy *The Emperor's Children* by Claire Messud online

The Emperor's Children
Claire Messud
496 pages
June 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Three privileged young people are the subject of this trenchant expose of the New York social elite. The incipient boredom of everyday life has become a challenge for Marina, Danielle and Julius, thirty-somethings who find themselves adrift, success after graduation from college not yet achieved.

A generation blessed by education and a particular sense of entitlement, the three are on the cusp of something; they just don’t know what it might be. Daughter of the iconoclastic Murray Thwaite, a popular writer and raconteur, Marina is finally finishing her non-fiction book, clinging to that identity in lieu of a substantive career.

Danielle Minkoff is a serious documentary journalist in search of an appropriate topic who has just left Australia, where she met the unctuous Ludovic Seeley, an Australian magazine entrepreneur. Ludovic heeds the siren call of New York just as Danielle returns, desperate for new ideas for her films.

In counterpoint to the females, a freelance journalist for the Village Voice and temporary office worker, Julius Clarke impulsively follows his muse and his heart into a romantic relationship with his latest boss. Julius is the most predictable of the three friends, sabotaging his own future because he cannot resist handsome distractions or too much cocaine.

The planet begins a subtle shift when Marina meets Ludovic. Enchanted by his intellect and strong personality, Marina subsumes her identity willingly in the throes of love. Then Bootie Tubb, Marina’s cousin, tumbles clumsily into the social milieu, the one unpredictable element skewering the comfortable self-absorption of this inbred society.

At first in thrall to Murray’s generosity and celebrity but later questioning his uncle’s authenticity, Bootie is an anomaly, always at odds with those who possess social graces, his sweaty, overweight body and thick glasses marking him as an outsider. Eventually Bootie answers to a higher calling, reminding the Emperor’s children that they have no clothes: “What could be rarer, more compelling, than unmasking these hacks for what they are?”

Pre-9/11 Marina, Danielle and Julius are best defined as children of privilege with a penchant for too much self-analysis and an aversion to consequences. Marina invests her identity in Seeley, who mocks Murray Thwaite while seducing his daughter; Danielle falls into a predictable romantic trap; and Julius, as expected, self-destructs.

The landscape forever altered post-9/11, the three friends are temporarily adrift but soon restored to the familiar. Class distinction at its most piquant, this is a dissection of the cultural elite and their pretensions; that the wit is piercing, if bitter, and none of the characters are particularly attractive is part of the charm of the novel.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2006

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