The Emperor's Children
by Claire Messud
source: borrowed from the library
Summary (from goodreads):
The Emperor’s Children is a dazzling, masterful novel about the intersections in the lives of three friends, now on the cusp of their thirties, making their way—and not—in New York City.
There is beautiful, sophisticated Marina Thwaite—an “It” girl finishing her first book; the daughter of Murray Thwaite, celebrated intellectual and journalist—and her two closest friends from Brown, Danielle, a quietly appealing television producer, and Julius, a cash-strapped freelance critic. The delicious complications that arise among them become dangerous when Murray’s nephew, Frederick “Bootie” Tubb, an idealistic college dropout determined to make his mark, comes to town. As the skies darken, it is Bootie’s unexpected decisions—and their stunning, heartbreaking outcome—that will change each of their lives forever.
A richly drawn, brilliantly observed novel of fate and fortune—of innocence and experience, seduction and self-invention; of ambition, including literary ambition; of glamour, disaster, and promise—The Emperor’s Children is a tour de force that brings to life a city, a generation, and the way we live in this moment.
“The apartment was entirely, was only, for her: a wall of books, both read and unread, all of them dear to her not only in themselves, their tender spines, but in the moments or periods they evoked."I didn't know what to expect going into this novel. Opinions vary widely, to say the least, but I loved it. Messud's writing, as always, is excellent - smart and incisive (though on the flip side, it's also been described as "over-stylized" and "old fashioned.") As in The Woman Upstairs, the characters are not particularly likable, but they are endlessly interesting. Messud gets the settings right, too. I love her depiction of pre-9/11 New York City and she positively nailed the bleakness of Watertown, NY, in upstate's "north country".
Sometimes you just know when a book is going to work for you, and that happened here within ten pages. In addition to the wonderful writing, Messud's story drew me in immediately and then held me for the entire 400 pages.
For me, this book was reminiscent of Meg Wolitzer's 2013 novel The Interestings, another personal favorite with somewhat mixed reviews. Now I can't help but wonder if Wolitzer was influenced by this novel. I think it's safe to say if you loved The Interestings, you'll love The Emperor's Children.
Bottom line: This is one of the best novels I've read in a long time and my favorite book of 2016.