It's a drawing-room drama in which Messud deviously transposes all of the tawdry ambitions of Victorian society to the Upper West Side, and lo and behold, the parlor starts to look bitterly familiar … This is New York intelligentsia: an incidental gathering of fauna, beset by privilege and neurosis, grappling with a relativistic social code that provides for happiness and tragedy in the most abstruse, often acid, ways … This tightly knit web—a kind of mini-panorama of New York society—is at the heart of Messud's rather ingenious craft. The characters are all extraordinarily drawn—the minutiae of everyone's unhappiness (manifested often through their relationship with Murray) rings true.
The Emperor’s Children is a masterly comedy of manners — an astute and poignant evocation of hobnobbing glitterati in the months before and immediately following Sept. 11 … The Emperor’s Children is full of satirical chiding, but it’s one of the more delightful — even delicious — forms of such chiding I’ve encountered. Messud’s prose is whorled and Jamesian, of a syntactical complexity that only a confident stylist could handle. Her plot is labyrinthine and deftly orchestrated; without wanting to reveal its twists and turns, I can say that what might seem harsh or overdetermined in the hands of another writer is dealt with unflinchingly but not viciously.
Set in New York City on the eve of 9/11, it begins, to put it glibly, as a sort of highbrow “Friends” — an antic comedy of manners about three college classmates, now on the cusp of their 30’s, trying to sort out questions about love and work and commitment … In tracing each of these characters’ trajectories, Ms. Messud does a nimble, quicksilver job of portraying her central characters from within and without — showing us their pretensions, frailties and self-delusions, even as she delineates their secret yearnings and fears.