Book Review: The Keep
By Kim Hollis
August 1, 2006

Suprisingly, this castle is made entirely of Legos.

Interconnectivity and circles within circles are everything in Jennifer Egan's new novel The Keep, though it takes a touch too long to come to that realization.

The story is told in matter-of-fact style as the reader becomes acquainted with Danny, a young goth-type from New York who has agreed to go assist his cousin, Howard, with the renovations of a castle in Europe. Danny and Howard have a distinctive event in their past that draws them together, one that nearly ended in tragedy and has left one of the two with enormous feelings of guilt and stress. Their story is revealed in bits and pieces, as an unreliable author is responsible for delivering the tale.

The castle where the cousins are reunited is almost like a character unto itself. It has a deep, dark, creepy pool (where a pair of ghosts are said to reside); long eerie hallways; and a 90-something baroness who lives in a tower and causes the cousins no end of difficulty. Truth be told, neither cousin is particularly likeable, and this does pose some problems through the first half of the book. It's difficult to engage with the main characters when there's no reason to relate to them, and frankly, this is the book's biggest downfall. Still, once I got past a certain point, I started to enjoy the structure that Egan was using to tell her story - and though I can't get into more specific details because it would spoil what happens to a large extent, it helps move things along.

As for the prose itself, Egan's writing is crisp and almost clinical. The detachment of the observer telling the story is deeply apparent at points, but there are certain moments where emotions are allowed to spill over suddenly, which is impacting for the reader. Sometimes the narrator even inserts himself and criticizes his own technique, timing and trustworthiness. And given what we come to know about the storyteller, this technique is wisely implemented.

Many readers are likely to feel that the "trick" of the book isn't worth the payoff, and indeed, it's maybe a little too M. Night Shyamalan-lite in the end to be truly effective. The greatest obstacle in the story is that it is tough to get into the story until the midway point, and by then there is a side tale that becomes a lot more interesting than the story we thought we were reading. Still, The Keep is a short, quick novel that moves at a super-brisk clip and Egan's unique writing style and ability to move between different voices makes it well worth a look.