One-Minute Book Reviews

March 16, 2007

Another Jawbreaker From Claire Messud’s ‘The Emperor’s Children’

Filed under: Book Awards,Book Reviews,Books,Fiction,Novels,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:05 pm

A postscript to yesterday’s news that Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children had been named the second runner-up in the 2007 Delete Key Awards competition for the year’s worst writing in books

By Janice Harayda

Wow, I thought the lines I quoted from The Emperor’s Children were bad. (Delete Key Awards Finalist, #4, Feb. 28; see also the March 15 post naming her the second-runner up in the finals But I just discovered that reviewer Gary Malone may have one-upped me. Read this excerpt from his review of the hardcover edition of her novel on that site:

The plot that wouldn’t thicken, March 5, 2007
Reviewer: Gary Malone (Australia)
– See all my reviews

“You’ve really got to worry about a novel when a *favourable* reviewer describes the plot’s two main set pieces and one of them is when the cat dies. [The Economist, 19 Aug 2006.] Before getting into that, however, try this sample sentence for size:

‘He remembered his father’s telling him – his father, small as he was himself tall, with sloping shoulders off which Murray feared, as a child, the braces might slip, a bow-tied little man with an almost Hitlerian mustache, softened from menace by its grayness, and by the softness, insidious softness, of his quiet voice, a softness that belied his rigidity and tireless industry, his humorless and ultimately charmless ‘goodness’ (Why had she married him? She’d been so beautiful, and such fun) – telling him, as he deliberated on his path at Harvard, to choose accounting, or economics, saying, with that dreaded certainty, ‘You see, Murray, I know you want to go out and write books or something like that. But only geniuses can be writers, Murray, and frankly son …’ [p. 124]

See what I mean about size? Reviewers have already complained about the author’s self-interrupting, drunkenly digressive prose style. They are entirely correct to do so. Claire Messud’s book is festooned with sentences which are essentially motorway pile-ups of sub-clauses, codicils and parenthetical interpolations. Such a rookie mistake – which makes for hopelessly cumbersome reading – should never have made it past the editor.”

Be sure to read Malone’s review on Amazon if your book club is thinking of reading The Emperor’s Children, especially if you wonder if the writing was bad enough to make it the second-runner in the Delete Key Awards, just behind first runner-up Mitch Albom and grand prize winner Danielle Steel.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. […] the second-runner up in 2007. And after naming her a finalist two years ago, I came across a quote on Amazon that might have been even worthier of an award. Reader-reviewer Gary Malone of Australia said on the bookselling site on March 5, […]

    Pingback by Battle of the Jawbreakers — 2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist ‘Wolf Totem’ Versus 2007 Second Runner-Up ‘The Emperor’s Children’ « One-Minute Book Reviews — March 12, 2009 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

  2. enjoyed this novel somewhat. I felt that it could have a little more substance. I found the fat, awkward Fredrick to be the most interesting character. It was like like he wanted to go to Harvard, and was destined for it, but he didn’t need the education to proclaim himself in the world. How many times do we feel like that as individuals completing the degree but acknowledging that the degree didn’t make us who we are.

    February 14, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    Comment by Lalise Omer — February 14, 2013 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

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