Review

The Emperor's Children

by Claire Messud



On the surface of things, Marina Thwaite and her two best friends
from Brown University have enviable lives. Danielle Minkoff is a
producer for a public television documentary series. Julius Clarke
writes "devastating but elegant" book reviews for high-profile
publications and is at the center of New York City's gay social
scene.

As for Marina herself, she's as renowned for her brain as for her
beauty --- having snagged a book deal right out of college, she has
spent the better part of the last decade working on a cultural
critique of children's clothing, even though her manuscript has yet
to see the light of day. Barely out of their twenties, living in
the world's most exciting city in the early months of 2001, the
three friends seem firmly ensconced in New York's literary and
cultural milieu, poised to make their mark on the world just as
Marina's famous father, Murray Thwaite, did some 30 years
before.

Murray Thwaite is that rare individual in America --- the public
intellectual. Having made his name as a foreign correspondent in
the 1960s and 1970s, Thwaite is now in demand as a talking head on
television talk programs, as a guest lecturer at colleges and
universities, and as a columnist for countless publications. Marina
idolizes her father, serving as his unpaid secretary and as his
escort to social events. Then Marina falls in love with a cynical
Australian editor who relocates to New York to launch a new
satirical magazine, and whose criticisms of Murray Thwaite's career
and ideas seem somehow to diminish her father's relevance.

Also in for a readjustment of his opinions of Murray Thwaite is
Marina's younger cousin Frederick "Bootie" Tubbs. Bootie has
dropped out of Oswego State University after growing disillusioned
with the cavalier attitude of his fellow students. Surely, Bootie
thinks, he can gain a better education by becoming an independent
scholar. And where better to do so than with his uncle Murray in
New York City? As Bootie grows closer to his uncle's work, he
begins to see his uncle's life and work as a sham, and is
determined to expose the faults of this public intellectual in the
most public way possible.

Set in the months leading up to and following September 11, 2001,
Claire Messud's THE EMPEROR'S CHILDREN is an acerbically observant
take on the neuroses of New York's young culturally elite at the
turn of the millennium. Although the tone of the novel can at times
seem bitterly satirical and cold, Messud's keen eye for detail
removes the glittering fa├žade from these characters, leaving
them vulnerable, exposed (both emotionally and, at times,
physically) and even surprisingly sympathetic. Impeccably plotted
and exquisitely written, Messud's novel is a comedy of manners for
the modern age.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 21, 2011

The Emperor's Children
by Claire Messud

  • Publication Date: August 29, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 030726419X
  • ISBN-13: 9780307264190