Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The Emporer's Children
Taken from the title of a book one of the character writes called The Emperor's Children Wear No Clothes, this book undresses three thirty-year old friends in New York. Marina Thwaite - the beautiful and well-to-do "it" girl who is once again living with her parents, Danielle Minkoff - a smart and somewhat successful TV producer who has an affair with Marina's father and Julius - a gay man with extremely complicated motives, are friends from college who have the advantages that graduating from an elite Ivy League university, as well has knowing influential and important people give them. They live the enviable life of having made it in New York.
The "emperor" seems to be the intellectual elite played by Marina's father, Murray Thwaite: a respected, liberal, and wealthy man who has spent the majority of his life writing "truth". This truth is applauded, awarded and revered by most, as he a champion to the poor, the honest and the brave. It isn't until two men come to town, his own nephew, Fred "Bootie" Tubbs, and Ludovic Seely, an ambitious Australian aiming to launch a new magazine, that his title of truth-teller is challenged.
I didn't think the book jacket's description adequately described the book. The story is complicated and at times, parts of it seem irrelevant to the whole - particularly Julius's part. In fact, as I read this immediately after Plainsong, I couldn't help but think it was the same story only in a much glitzier city with much glitzier characters. The book matters only so far as the characters matter.
At its end is New York's and America's tragic 9/11. Most of the character's trajectories are altered by this event. Except, perhaps, Murray Thwaite - the actual emperor - whose existence remains mostly unchanged.
The subject matter can be ugly, the characters pompous and infuriating, but the book still sparkles because Clare Messud writes the satire so convincingly. Claire Messud is the person in the crowd (although you have to assume this is her own crowd she's shouting at) watching the parade declaring, "But they're not wearing any clothes!"