I just finished reading the novel The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud and I have to admit that I am blown away. The reason why I say that is because I tried to read this novel years ago and found that I could not get beyond the first ten pages. However, after reading her new book, The Woman Upstairs, when it came out, I developed an appreciation for her work and her style of writing, that same way that I now appreciate Ian McEwan, my all time favourite author.
The Emperor's Children takes places several months before 9/11 regarding the lives of three friends and their existence in New York City. First we have Marina Thwaite, daughter of the powerful and well known journalist Murry Thwaite and attorney Annabel Thwaite, who is also jobless and still trying to work on her first book that has been in the making for the last seven years. Next we have Danielle, a television producer who is also a shy intellectual, and finally we have Julius, a critic for several magazines who is also queer, a fashion hound and broke. These three friends live and breathe New York in their own way and yet they are the same: early 30s, selfish to a degree and uniquely ambitious. Their stories create the backdrop for a turn paging novel that also makes you realize that none of the characters are that likable, which in turn makes them very real and very vulnerable.
When Frederick Tubb, also known as "Bootie", comes to New York to live with his uncle Murray and family, he changes from a shy and overweight deep thinker to a catalyst that will set off a chain of events with the 9/11 event as the climax. Bootie comes to New York for a better life away from the distraught Waterstown, New York, and instead finds only lies and deceit. Julius begins working for a company and instead falls for his older boss David. Danielle begins an affair with a most unlikely man. Marina marries Australian Ludovic Seeley yet wonders if she is trapped.
Many people claimed that The Emperor's Children was long-winded and in need of an editor but I beg to differ. Messud's writing is drenched in description and revelation of innermost feelings; nothing is held back, nothing is sacred. For me, that is appealing and makes for a great novel. Reading about Danielle, Julius and Marina through Messud's words made me dislike them even more so than before, yet, as I stated before, made them very real and very vulnerable.
The Emperor's children are naked and vulnerable, just like their father, yet with eyes that see all, we as a society are quick to accept what is for simply what is. Are we just that accepting . . . . or just that blind?