As I am on a long library wait list for Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, I decided to read The Emperor’s Children to get a feel for her style. The Emperor’s Children is an interesting look at modern American society and our views of success. I will tell you up front that you will not like the characters. It took a while for me to get into this book focusing on three college friends in NYC in the days before 9/11. This book explores the illusions and myths people create to present themselves to the world at large with the myth serving as the soul. The characters that are “normal” are unlikable and the “weird” character may be the “best” person. The 9/11 description is important to reviewers, but I have to say that if these characters were real people, I doubt the event changed them in any way other than adding a “I was there” stories to their well-rehearsed repertoire.
Over the summer there has been a bit of a brouhaha over women writing unlikeable characters. An interviewer asked Messud about her unlikeable female character. I don’t feel that all characters, male or female, need to be liked. Messud’s writes about modern life. Certainly not everyone in our circle of influence is likeable. She is not trying to flatter our times or write happy stories for the sake of it. The Emperor’s Children is excellent storytelling and a smartly written book that turns “likeable” and “unlikable” on its head. Her writing make you think.
Where do you stand on women writing “unlikeable” female characters?