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June 03, 2013

Book One Review: "The Emperor's Children" by Claire Messud

emperor's children When I set myself up for a 65 Book Challenge a couple weeks ago, I don’t think I realized what I would be getting myself into. At some point, I suddenly grasped that not only would 65 books be difficult to manage, but I felt that it might prove tough for you, the readers, to follow along with the list. Hence, I created a Goodreads account which allows me to better organize my books and to show you what I’m reading, what I've already read, and how many stars I rate each one. You can pop by my profile to check it out and even ‘friend’ me, if you’re up for it. I’d love to see your thoughts on each novel and your ratings as well. Now, having gotten past my organizational issues, I can discuss with a bit more relief the first novel on my Book Challenge list: The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud. Right off the bat, let me say that it’s very refreshing to read great contemporary literature by an American author as a lot of times I tend to forego American literature for good authors from abroad. And Messud is definitely a very able writer. I truly enjoyed her descriptive prose; she really managed to bring alive a little bit of everything – from Smalltown, America to the glittery glamorous aspect of the Big City, from the back alleys of the run-down neighborhoods to the upscale apartments of New York City – and infuse it with life through her emphatic and expressive rhetoric. Messud’s characters, on the other hand, were brought alive in a less than pleasant manner. And I mean this as a compliment. Very few writers manage to create hateful characters while maintaining the riveted attention of the reader – but Messud does this deftly and surely. Her novel follows the lives of several different people pre and post 9/11 as they maneuver the difficulties of living rather elite and entitled lives. And perhaps this was the true draw of this book; it was the first time I had ever read a 9/11 novel that approached this tragedy from such a point of view. It was a truly different experience to continue the narrative and realize in astonishment that calamity of this magnitude could be used to further each protagonist’s own selfish designs. So, you may be wondering, why did I only give this book two stars on my Goodreads account? Well, while the novel was interesting and enjoyable to read, it felt, strangely, as if Messud changed her style about halfway through. I breezed through the first half but then found myself becoming increasingly bogged down by over-thought, prolonged paragraphs which were attempting to delve deeper into the psyches of the characters. For me, these statements simply did not serve what I believe was their intended purpose: they didn’t help me to get to know the characters better, instead I sensed they were largely unnecessary. I understood each character well through their interactions with one another and their reactions to each other, so in my case I felt the long psychoanalysis’ were unnecessary. That being said, I would highly recommend you try this book for yourself. I love hearing different opinions, especially if they lead to healthy debate. How many stars (out of five) do you think this novel deserves? :)