The Emperor’s Children — Review by Carole

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The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud is a book much lauded by critics for the past year and a half, and I have to say that I don’t get what all the fuss was about. I read this book for the book club I’m in with my sisters-in-law, and if it’s for book club, I finish the book, but in this case, it wasn’t easy.

I didn’t like ANY of the characters in the book. Usually there is someone you are interested in enough to follow through. Not in this case—I kept thinking “What a completely self-absorbed group of individuals!” But then I thought that someone would experience some personal growth, he or she would evolve into someone I could care about. Wrong!

One review I read recently on Summize (after I read the book) complained that the book was just a lot of navel gazing. I would agree to a point, but I can get behind a certain amount of navel gazing if it’s for some ultimate purpose. In this case, metaphorically speaking, it was mostly to determine that their navels were in fact better than other people’s navels.

The one element of the book that had redeeming value, in my view, was the analogy to the Emperor Has No Clothes. The theme of the book one of the characters is chronically writing, it is also the allusion expressed in the title. Who, then, is the emperor? Who are his children? Every time I tried to explore this analogy, it fell apart on me. I wanted it to be so much better. I love allusions to fairy tales and other tales from my childhood, so I was open to this. Massud let me down.

The book was also lauded for its lovely language, but I found the sentences convoluted and complex for no particular reason. I finally came to the conclusion that perhaps it was to hide the fact that the story was weak.

I didn’t hate this book like I did Middlesex (see my rant on this as my most hated read of 2007), rather I found The Emperor’s Children to be a waste of time. I recently finished Crossing to Safety and Julia’s Chocolates (review to come soon) and enjoyed them both immensely for different reasons; those reading experiences serve to highlight how frustrating it is to encounter a book that is a waste of time. Too many wonderful books then suffer from lack of attention because of my distraction.

In Chris’ post “When You Can’t Go On,” she asks when do you decide to stop reading a book. She and I are pretty dogged in our reading efforts, but some bookos just aren’t your thing, and that’s okay. For me, The Emperor’s Children fell through the cracks. It wasn’t so bad that I stopped reading it. Instead, when I was finished, I wish I hadn’t bothered. In many respects, that’s worse than a truly awful book.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Carole, I have to agree. I picked up the book about a year ago and found the characters so vapid, the writing so sub-par and the storyline so unimpressive, I couldn't justify getting any further than a couple of chapters.

I worry when so many people jump on book bandwgons with bad books like Middlesex and The Emperor's Children, making them bestsellers when other, better books deserve that financial reward and recognition. I really hope readers become more discerning and critical than that.