One-Minute Book Reviews

February 28, 2007

Delete Key Awards Finalist #4: ‘The Emperor’s Children’ by Claire Messud

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Delete Key Awards,Reading,Writing — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:43 pm

“It filled her with despair, a literal leadening of her limbs, a glazing of the eyes, so that she could barely lift the sheets of paper around her, and certainly couldn’t decipher what was written upon them.”

Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (Knopf) may be the most overrated novel of the century. Yes, it centers on a New York journalist in the months before Sept. 11, and journalists enjoy reading about their own kind and may attach a special gravity to books that invoke the terrorist attacks. And, yes, it comes from John Updike’s publisher. But that still doesn’t explain the praise heaped on this slow-moving and overwritten novel full of lines of dialogue like: “Think about it: there’s nothing worse than pretension, and false pretension is the bottom of the barrel.” Think about it: Isn’t pretension always false?

Writing sample:
Julius “never knew in life whether to be Pierre or Natasha, the solitary, brooding loner or the vivacious social butterfly.” As opposed to a loner who isn’t solitary? Then there’s: “It filled her with despair, a literal leadening of her limbs, a glazing of the eyes, so that she could barely lift the sheets of paper around her, and certainly couldn’t decipher what was written upon them.” Where do the problems with that line begin? With that “leadening” that wasn’t literal but metaphorical? Or with all the clichés?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

[The 10 Delete Key Awards finalists are being announced in random order throughout the day and numbered only for convenience.]

4 Comments »

  1. I sooo dilsiked this book. I tried at least 3 times to read the ARC, but finally gave up and gave it back to the bookstore owner. She said the NY Times raved about it(?). It eludes me.

    Comment by kinderny — March 1, 2007 @ 10:02 am | Reply

  2. Yes, the NYTBR did love this book and made it one of it’s “10 Best” of the year. It’s baffling … There’s so much awful writing in the novel. I have a feeling that because of the inflated reviews, a lot of book clubs will be tremendously disappointed with “The Emperor’s Children.” But maybe if enough people leave comments like yours, some of them will think twice …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — March 1, 2007 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

  3. Of course they may take me more seriously if I spell correctly….

    Comment by kinderny — March 5, 2007 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

  4. By any chance have you read any of Russell Freedman’s biographies for 9-to-12-year- olds? People have come to this site looking for good nonfiction for that age group since I started blogging about the 2007 Newbery. So I put up a quick post on Saturday, March 3, about Freedman’s “Lincoln: A Photobiography” and a few of his other books. But he’s written about 50, and I haven’t read nearly all of them. If you have any thoughts on the books I mentioned or those I didn’t, and could put them up with the Saturday post, I’m sure some of the searchers would appreciate it.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — March 5, 2007 @ 7:26 pm | Reply


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