Tag Archives: Claire Messud

Ludovic Seeley

{The Emporer’s Children by Claire Messud}
{Reading Status: three-quarters of the way through the novel}

Tim: As part of our conversation in our “Relationships” post, it seemed like we came back a couple times to Ludovic Seeley. Particularly, what does Ludo want? It’s a core character trait. What motivates him. He has been the archetypical shapeshifter through nearly the entire book so far. There are only a couple things we can really pin down about him. He’s very interested in the way society works, and he’s fairly committed to the idea that society, repetitively, has got it all wrong. At the same time (as we discussed before), he’s committed to the idea of mutability. I doubt very much that Ludo believes in absolute truth. In fact, I’d be surprised if he subscribed to much truth of any kind. Not an existentialist, that one. No, I think part of the reason that Ludo gives us the willies as a reader is that if I had to guess, I’d guess he’s motivated by power. And I think this is where The Monitor comes into play. He sells it as uncovering the truth, and characters like Marina and Bootie buy into the idea that there is truth to be discovered. But i think it’s likely that from Ludo’s point of view he’s just on the cutting edge of the next great persuasion. I think he’s trying to play god, if only over his small domain. He wants to hold all the cards, to be the man behind the curtain and the wizard, both.

Debby: Not an existentialist nor, as we find out, much of sentimentalist. Ludo is a “modern Napoleon”. So what does this mean? His army is his words- he can break down barriers and change the tone of society with his magazine. I bet he has a bit of an image-complex, too. Marina is clearly attracted to rather unfortunate-looking characters (Fat Al? Really?). Ludo is clean and trim, but slight and not exactly pleasant to look at. His speech, then, is his true seduction. Danielle and Marina were both swayed by this, even Annabel to some degree. I think Murray, as much as he dislikes Ludo, has a respect for his talent as a wordsmith. Murray, too, has used words to get what he wants and has to appreciate this next generation of expression.

Tim: Sure. And we touched on this some already, but let’s try to dive into a couple of specifics. What does Ludo want from his relationship with Marina, do you think? Because it doesn’t seem to be getting him a lot so far, unless he’s just looking for some creature comforts. That doesn’t strike me as Ludo, though. And that’s part of the funny thing. I have very little defined notion of who Ludo is, but he does seem to occupy space. Like a cloud. Never quite sure where the edges are, but you can point to the general location. Again, the shapeshifter. (By the way everyone should go read Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Conrad and/or The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler if they haven’t.)

Debby: Oh, I think Ludo knows a hot ticket when he sees one. Remember how interested he was to meet Murray? It hasn’t come up much since, but I think he realized how much influence Murray Thwaite has over New York society (and how many parties he is an honored guest at). Ludo might never be in Thwaite’s high graces, but winning the daughter was a sure way to tag along to every single “place to be.”

Tim: Yeah, I guess so. But then the running into marriage seems a bit off. My guess is Ludo isn’t the sort of person to feel tied down, even by that – as a side note, do you think we’ll see a pre-nup? I wouldn’t be wholly surprised to see Murray be the one to suggest it, which may be just what Ludo wants – but it certainly seems easier to pull Marina into his cult of personality and just date her. They’ve only been together a couple months, after all.

Debby: But Marina needs marriage. That’s what is going to make her feel fulfilled. And it will also make her more useful to Ludo.

Tim: And we’re back back to relationships. Which is often where what people want, and what people get, can get mixed up.

Debby: Exactly. I feel like there’s a lot of build-up at this point for the wedding. I’m sure we will see more what incentivizes Ludo in this marriage as the nuptials unfold.

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The Writing

{Book #1: The Emporer’s Children by Claire Messud}
{Reading Status: halfway through the novel}

Tim: So last time we talked a lot about the characters, but I’ve got something else I want to discuss: the writing. I did not like the writing in most of this book so far. It’s not that it’s aggressively bad. It’s just aggressively pretentious. Ms. Messud loves her asides. Merrily we go along and then, WHAM! All the narrative momentum is derailed by three sentences of tangent. It strikes me as trying way too hard.

Debby: I know you’re trying to shift the topic away from the characters, but doesn’t the language underscore all the pretentious, insincere qualities we just affirmed in them? I think there is a clear purpose behind the language and grammar that the author uses. These are rather snooty young adults who are trying to be taken seriously in New York City. It’s interesting to note that the vocabulary is more dramatic and the writing structure increasingly chaotic when the characters reflect on themselves and their own actions. Their actual conversations are much more banal, for example the conversation Danielle and Marina have while dress shopping:

Marina: “Mom and Dad dragged him to the Beavors’ last night… You know, they’ve got that penthouse over the park I told you about. Awesome view. But everyone was so stiff. Poor Fred here looked like he was dying to escape.”

Fred: “No, no. I was– Maybe a little– It was— different.”

Danielle: “Hey, don’t I know it. I’m from Columbus, you know, not like Miss New York here, who couldn’t imagine life anywhere else–”

Marina: “Not fair!”

I found this exchange to be almost comical in how low brow it was. “You know” seems almost interchangeable with the pop-cultural overuse of the term “like”.

Tim: I think you’re right – that’s what the author is aiming for. And pretty much hits it. The trouble is that it works against itself. The act of making the writing banal, as you put it, for the sake of the characters nonetheless disinterested me as a reader. I think it’s an interesting attempt, so kudos to the writer for having a clear vision in mind and executing on it, I just think the vision, put to practice, was a little flawed.

Debby: Hmm… I do see your point, I just don’t feel quite as frustrated by it. I am certainly finding the characters less and less interesting. Their conversations don’t exactly “propel” the story along. Actually, at this point I’m not entirely sure what the storyline is. Do you have any thoughts on where this is all going?

Tim: Hahaha this is what I’ve been feeling from the get-go! I’m caught between expecting it to turn out rosy, for the characters to actually grow and change and adapt – and expecting them to just keep floundering. Which I guess is pretty true to life. I think there’s a large chance that we’re going to see people on the spectrum.

Debby: Ah! But that’s why I can empathize so easily with them! I am a very capable, sharp, personable young adult. I know that I could fully handle a career or a serious project if I was given the right opportunity. Yet until that day comes, I’m faced with a great number of minimum-wage jobs that make me feel insignificant.

Tim: Ok, sure. But I guess I don’t want to empathize with them. At the same time I’m probably often as cocky as these characters, I think I can figure it out on my own. Watching their malaise just doesn’t strike me as that interesting. Maybe I just want adventure. I will say, though, there is some definite narrative momentum building into the second half. It’s getting more interesting for me as we go, not less. Although barring getting through this list, I might not have got this far…

Debby: You can’t put a book down halfway through!! That’s practically criminal. We must press on!

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