14
Nov
07

The Emperor’s Children

The Emperor's Children
I can’t say I don’t recommend it. Just be prepared to take some time with it.

Messud’s writing style is dizzyingly parenthetic. I lost count of the sentences I had to read over two or three times before I could disentangle the syntax. It’s like a photocopy of exact thought at times: It may have made perfect sense to her, but not everyone can follow along. I accepted it early on as a stylistic quirk, but often it seemed gratuitous, a mishmash of clauses that could have existed happily as separate sentences, whose unholy union only complicated and obfuscated rather than providing any deeper meaning.

She uses several turns of phrase that just don’t parse for me. And I think she hit the thesaurus a few too many times. I am not an unintelligent reader, and I have my own fondness for good words, but what’s the point when it obscures rather than reveals meaning? It’s inexcusable, especially considering her consistent misuse of the very simple word “comprise” throughout. Sometimes it’s not so much the fault of the writer as it is her editor.

That said, the novel is engaging. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a one of the principle characters, yet the voice is a consistent coherent narrator. The variety keeps the story from getting too dull.

The one thing that binds all of them to each other is their tremendous self-indulgence. (I’m sure her own self-indulgent writing style was not nearly as intentional.) I recognized people I dislike in these characters. And isn’t it always the case — I recognized qualities I dislike about myself in them. It kept me from liking them too much to remain objective, yet it made them familiar enough to keep me paying attention.

What drew me to this book was my curiosity about the new spate of novels and short stories that have come out in recent years in which 9/11 plays a significant part. It annoyed me at first that anyone would reduce that day and its aftermath to a plot point — even if it was done well. Six years on, it can still be a ballsy proposition. But like all such events, it is a plot point. It is our history, our story, our plot. I admire the way Messud uses it at the end as a means of releasing &$8212; shattering — the characters out of their illusions, while still capturing the horror, panic and disbelief of those days. I think it had a similar effect on all of us, however short- or long-lasting it may have been.

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