Monday, February 13, 2017
Narrated by Suzanne Toren
Published August 2006 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale
Friends at Brown University, Marina, Danielle, and Julius are still looking to make their marks as they approach their 30s. Marina lives with her celebrated parents on the Upper West Side while trying to complete her book. TV producer Danielle's success is due to the puff pieces she churns out. Freelance critic Julius can barely make ends meet. Into this mix comes Bootie, Marina's college dropout cousin, who is just the catalyst the three friends need to start making significant changes in their lives.
I'm always interested looking back at the summaries of books once I've finished them and seeing how they match up to the book I've just finished. This one is as remarkable for what it leaves out as for how accurately it explains the book right up to the last sentence. While Bootie certainly a catalyst for change, he's not the only person who comes into the lives of Marina, Danielle, and Julius who causes upheaval. Ludovic Seeley, ambitious Aussie, comes to New York City to launch a revolutionary new magazine and Murray Thwaite, Marina's famous father and, essentially, the emperor here, will both come between the friends.
Because my thoughts are never far from politics these days, I couldn't help but think, as I listened to this, that The Emperor's Children is exactly the kind of book Trump's fans would enjoy, a book about intellectual elitists who are failing spectacularly. I so often find myself lumped into the category of "intellectual elitist" (you know, because college degrees seems to equal intellectual elitist in some people's minds), but these characters are what I think of when I think of that term, people who expect, because of their education, that life will just fall into place for them. People who continue to believe they are entitled even when life works to push them down.
I don't know many Ivy League educated people but I certainly know people who feel entitled and people who think that they are above others because of their backgrounds or where they come from. So I could certainly recognize people I know in these characters. Fortunately, I couldn't actually relate to them. That didn't stop me from finding them interesting but it also meant that I sort of hoped that they'd all fail spectacularly. Messud seems to hope so, too, which makes things fun. But she doesn't hold much fondness for small towns or their morals, either, nor for those who think they are above higher education.
The narration, for the most part, was good, although Toren's voice for Bootie made him sounds like a prepubescent child which made it hard for me to buy into his character as well as might have in print. And the ending? It was one of those that made me say "that's it?" It's one of those books that just kind of ends. The book may also have suffered in following immediately on the heels of The Interestings, another book about entitled New Yorkers, that also incorporated the 9/11 tragedy.
In the end, I did enjoy the book quite a lot. Messud writes smart, witty stories with intelligent, interesting characters and she makes me think.