Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Slick Gothic

THE KEEP Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan’s Look At Me was inventive and well-written; with her next, The Keep, she ratchets up her craft to deliver a tale of secrets and lies. Much of the relish in reading this novel comes from the way she subverts and plays with genre: Gothic fantasy for the most part, but also prison memoir.

The novel primarily deals with the relationship between cousins Danny and Howard: Danny’s been one of those responsible for playing a cruel practical joke on Howard when they were young and now, years later, he journeys to a remote European castle to help a reinvented Howard fructify his plans to set up a luxury hotel there.

The castle is satisfyingly spooky: Danny deals with an ancient baroness, a murky pool and hidden corridors and tunnels. Just as you begin to wonder how much of his predicament is dream and how much reality, Egan turns the screws on you: Danny’s tale is actually being told by Ray, a convict in a prison writing class, and we now intercut between the Gothic narrative and Ray’s life in prison.

It’s all very cleverly done, and Egan keeps you turning the pages to find out what happens next. One concern, however, is that Danny’s story is much more absorbing than Ray’s, making the denouement a tad less than satisfying. Yet, for the most part, The Keep explores questions of identity, connection and reinvention with refreshing brio.

Worth your while? Yes, if you’re a Gothic novel fan, and yes, if you think that literary fiction can’t provide a gripping tale.


Anonymous said...

Have you read The Book of Air and Shadows? Not Gothic, but a gripping literary story.

Unknown said...

Not yet, should check it out.