The Emperor’s Children – Book Review

“Well, then.” Ludovic sat up against the headboard, cleared his throat. “As parents, we visit our complexes, whatever they may be, upon our children – our neuroses, our hopes and fears, our discontents. Just the way our broader society is like a parent, and visits its complexes upon the citizenry, if you will.” – From The Emperor’s Children, page 205 –

The Emperor’s Children is an intellectual miasma about the superficiality of the privileged classes – and the subsequent collision of values between the haves and have nots. Set in New York City in 2001, the book explores the lives of five major characters: Marina – a rich and spoiled pseudo-journalist; Julius – a gay, confused free lance critic; Danielle – a television producer with attitude; Frederick “Bootie” Tubb – an idealistic and slightly creepy college drop out; and Murray Thwaite – a middle aged, liberal “emperor” who has made a name in journalism. The novel is narrated in alternating points of view and spans a period of half a year, tying together (with an artistic flair) the rather superficial threads of each character’s motivations and lives. None of these characters is especially likable, but all are compulsively readable.

Messud creates a novel about the upper classes: their attitude of entitlement, their petty betrayals, their focus on power. In doing so, she reveals some interesting truths about humanity. I enjoyed her observations about higher education:

The Land of Lies in which most people were apparently content to live – in which you paid money to an institution and went out nightly to get drunk instead of reading the books and then tried to calculate some half-assed scheme by which you could cheat on your exams, and then, at the end of the day, presumably simply on account of the financial transaction between you, or more likely your parents, and said institution, you declared yourself educated – was not sufficient for Bootie. – From The Emperor’s Children, page 55 –

about raising children and giving them everything their hearts desire:

Murray Thwaite had little patience for this. He suddenly saw his daughter as a monster he and Annabel had created – they and a society of excess. – From The Emperor’s Children, page 66 –

…and about high tech, computerized corporate America:

The company, it seemed, engaged in middle man activity, the procuring of rights – of abstractions – that permitted, elsewhere, the actual trading of information (also abstract) for huge sums of money. Which was, of course, itself abstract. It was a though the entire office were generating and moving, acquiring and passing on, hypotheticals, a trade in ideas, or hopes, to which value somehow accrued. – From The Emperor’s Children, page 60 –

Messud has written a sharp, witty expose that intrigued me. Her writing is observant, her characters complex and well developed. Although this is not the type of book I usually enjoy, I found myself unable to put it down.

Recommended.