Thursday, September 07, 2006

"The Keep" by Jennifer Egan

I purchased this novel impusively this afternoon, around 3pm, and I have just finished it.

Most definitely a page-turner, Ms. Egan is attempting to do something here with narrative and point of view that many other contemporary authors shy away from: the unreliable narrator (or unknown, or changing narrator). I'm a big fan of this technique. As "The Keep" is a gothic novel, there is not only one but two surprises to the ending of the story this way- the big bang ending, and the identity of Ms. Egan's characters.

"The Keep" is the story of a prisoner's story he is writing on for a creative writing class in prison. The story is that of Danny and Howard, two cousins forever connected by an unfortunate "traumatic" event from childhood. Ray, the author of the story, claims that he didn't make it up, but rather that "some guy" told him the story. There are several loop-holes already in the plot- who is Ray, and what is his connection to these characters? Do they truly exist? This is what makes this novel a page-turner. Ms. Egan is unwilling to give the reader any sort of respite from wondering what will happen- is this really a ghost story, or simply a story of human evil?

Ms. Egan's most unique stylistic choice is her dialogue, written as such:

Danny: What do you mean? He felt strange.
Howard: Looking at him intently. Nothing.

The structure of the dialogue forces the reader to blend the character's thoughts and words, as if the two cannot be separated. The reader wonders if everything on the page is spoken, or perhaps if nothing is spoken at all.

"The Keep" is certainly not brilliant by any means, but it is certainly adventurous and well-written. My only complaint is that Ms. Egan spent more time on the history and nature of the castle, but this remains a mystery.


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