Saturday, 4 November 2017

One Man's Opinion: THE KEEP by JENNIFER EGAN

Where to start? Normally the beginning. Where the hell is the beginning of this one? I’m still puzzling over the structure and the layers and they way the pieces fit together, but it’s a welcome challenge rather than a chore. It’s one of those novels that keeps you guessing and uneasily on your toes from start to finish and then beyond its grave, so to speak.

New Yorker, Danny, arrives at a European castle somewhere in the middle of nowhere. He’s travelling light in many ways, though his luggage includes a satellite dish so that he can keep in touch with what he considers to be the real world. The weight of his internal baggage is much heavier. He bears the scars of lost potential, broken relationships, of scrabbling through the social rules of the world and those created by his deep need to be loved. Though his new surroundings are like something from a fantasy, the bricks and history he is required to navigate are solid and concrete, more so than any text or blip on his social network radar.  

He’s been invited there by his cousin, Howie, for reasons that aren’t instantly clear.

Howie is rich and powerful. He intends to turn the castle into a pure space for people to exist, discover their inner selves and explore their imagination once they’re freed from the manipulation and bombardment of modern cultural stimulus. He has a wife and family and a team of supporting individuals working for me, including a menacing number two. Their biggest problem getting is the woman who lives in the keep, an old baroness from a long line of land-owning aristocrats. She has the ghost like properties of being able to change in the eyes of her beholder and she insists that she’ll never leave her home.

Danny begins to suspect that his role is to pacify the old lady and persuade her to leave. He also worries that Howie has darker intentions, given that he has every reason to want to mete out revenge for dark deeds of the past.

As this plot twists and turns, there’s a sudden shift. This story is contained within another. The story in which it is contained has an impact upon the lives of others. Just when you think you know where you are, the ground shifts and the view changes completely.

To elaborate would spoil the surprises, but each new angle carries its own tensions and thought-provoking material. What’s important is that each strand can both hold its own while being woven skilfully together as things development and that when they are brought together they increase in strength.

On a simple level, I enjoyed being drawn in to this. It’s thrilling and engaging and haunting. At times it is uncomfortable, at others perplexing.  

At the end of it all, I was left with lots of questions. The good kind. Those relating to identity, to the human condition, to the pitfalls of contemporary life. I wanted to understand why the transitions felt so seamless; how the depth of characters were so effectively mined; and what the hell I’d missed along the way. I don’t have answers, but I’d be more than happy to haggle over them in the comments section if you feel inclined.  

Most importantly of all, I’d recommend you read the book. The Keep (US) really is a keeper, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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