TITLE: THE KEEP
AUTHOR: JENNIFER EGAN
“What’s real, Danny? Is reality TV real? Are confessions you read on the Internet real? The words are real, someone wrote them, but beyond that the question doesn’t even make sense.”
When Danny needs to leave New York, his life there and an unfortunate incident behind in a hurry he accepts an invitation from his cousin Howard. Howard has recently become the owner of an old castle somewhere not too far away from Prague and wants Danny’s help converting the building into a hotel. Danny is apprehensive about this trip. An incident in his and Howard’s past has him worried about seeing his cousin again after many years of no contact. And although Howard doesn’t appear to be holding any grudges towards Danny, the castle itself only increases Danny’s feelings of discomfort. Danny is a creature of the modern age, addicted to his computer, cell-phone, emails and other means of staying in constant touch with everybody around him. Finding himself in a location where contact with the outside world proves to be impossible has him teetering on the edge of panic. And there are more things to worry Danny on the castle grounds. There’s the keep and the old baroness who has locked herself away in it and appears to be changing her appearance depending on the angle from which you view her, a dark pool that swallows Danny’s only hope of communicating with the outside world and secrets that only fuel Danny’s sense of paranoia. As the past comes back to haunt the two cousins there is no way the story can end on a positive note for all involved.
In a high security prison in America a man called Ray has decided to join a writing course. In an effort to impress his female teacher he writes a story about two cousins who join forces to renovate an ancient castle only to have an incident from their childhood follow them into their present. Who is Ray? Has he invented Danny or is he somehow involved in the events described in the story he is writing?
Jennifer Egan doesn’t write straight-forward novels; her writing is different from most other authors’. By the time I reached page 20 I was already confused as to who the narrator of this story was; all I knew was that it didn’t appear to be a conventional narrator. And my confusion didn’t lessen as the story went on. What, if anything, is real? Can we believe anything we’re reading or is it all just figments of somebody’s imagination? Are all characters mad and delusional or is the world they live just on the far side of normal?
As she did in “A Visit from theGoon Squad” Jennifer Egan tells her story from various perspectives and using a host of metaphors. I’m not going to try and mention all of them here because I know I will have missed quite a few. Suffice to say that this is a Gothic ghost story as well as a reflection on modern day communication and the way in which we’ve come to depend on it.
This is a fascinating and intriguing story that needs to be read slowly. While there is more then enough tension and mystery in this book to make the reader want to rush along, I would strongly advice against such a course of action. Everything in this story is in some way, shape or form connected to everything else and it is necessary to pay close attention to what you are reading if you want to get the full picture. In fact, I think that this is a book that would greatly benefit from more than one reading. I’m convinced that I must have missed hints, themes and conclusions; that there is more to this story than I managed to get out of it during this first encounter.
This is the second book I read following a recommendation from TiffanyReisz and I think I may have to invite her to compile my reading list from now on. Not only does she write books that keep me on my toes, fascinated and guessing, she recommends books that do exactly the same. “Mind-fuck” is the word she uses to describe her own and these books and I couldn’t agree more. And boy am I enjoying having my mind messed with.