Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

"The Keep" by Jennifer Egan (Abaqus, 2007)

In Parts I and II two threads alternate: about Ray's prison life plus writing course, and the story he's written about Danny King. I hadn't anticipated the narrational twist at the end of Part II. In Part III he's escaped and has sent the story to Martha, his writing teacher (who's younger than she is in his narration, and much younger than the Baroness in his story - though the Baroness seemed young sometimes). Martha is taken in by 2 policemen, one of them Pete Konig ("King" in German). Coincidences and connections abound - pools, escape tunnels. Too tricksy? No - it's fun trying to match up the characters in the different narratives.

There are various authorial (but who's the author?) interjections - e.g.

  • "He was heading into memory number two, I might as well tell you that straight up, because how I'm supposed to get him in and out of all these memories in a smooth way so nobody notices all the coming and going I don't know" (p.11)
  • "Bottom line: Danny didn't know why he'd come all this way to Howie's castle. Why did I take a writing class? I thought it was to get away from my roommate, Davis, but I'm starting to think there was another reason under that.
    You? Who the hell are you? That what someone must be saying right about now. Why, I'm the guy talking. Someone's always doing the talking, just a lot of times you don't know who it is or what their reasons are.
    " (p.17)
  • " Now wait a minute, someone's got to be saying. Three pages ago Danny had been awake almost ten minutes, and now you're telling us it's forty-five?" (p.124)
  • "someone's got to be wondering: (1) Was he ever really outside, or was it all just a dream? (2) Has he seen Howard since he got back (or dreamed he got back) to the castle? (3) Which part of Danny won the argument, the part that blamed everything on Howard or the part that blamed the worm? And I wish I knew how to sprinkle these answers around so you'd get the information without ever noticing how you got it, but I don't. So I'll just stick them in when the time seems right. Danny headed down the hall between the rows of electric candles. He was careful to walk, not hobble [Answer number 1: It wasn't a dream" (p.155)

Other reviews

The book's been quite heavily reviewed. The reviews dwell on the plot. A number of them question the need for the final part. I didn't mind it, though I was hoping that Martha might ask herself more of the questions that the narrator thinks "someone" will ask. A few reviewers query the intrusions. To me, the novel's not very meta-fictional. When the satellite dish sank, I expected the ghosts to communicate. I expected Danny's thrown cell-phone to have fallen there too so that the past (and its genres) could more easily communicate with the present. I didn't find the book as moving as some other readers did. But I guess it does manage to combine various types of novel while remaining readable.

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