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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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'The Keep', Jennifer Egan's third book, is a cleverly written novel that conceals its true nature almost to the end. At the outset, it appears to be a modernised gothic thriller: Stephen King rewritten by an author of a more literary bent. As it develops, it becomes apparent that this first story is itself being told by an at first unnamed narrator, whose personal story then frames and comments on it. But Egan is far from finished. A third story emerges, within which the second story takes its place as an episode. The reader constantly has to readjust: are any of these stories fictional, or are they all to some extent real?

Egan is a sophisticated writer who is clearly familiar with the likes of Mrs. Radcliffe, but also comfortable with postmodernist and metafictional games. She presents her take on both with a light touch. As in older gothic stories, there is play with levels of reality, suspicion and threat. Ultimately, the author handles serious themes - drug addiction, prison life, guilt for past misdeeds, fear of growing up and growing old - with confidence and conviction.

Egan has since won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (for 'A Visit From the Goon Squad') and her intelligence and subtlety certainly deserve to be taken seriously. I enjoyed 'The Keep' rather more than its prize-winning successor - possibly because I like the gothic mode, possibly because I had lower expectations. I suspect that readers will differ in their reactions depending on whether they expect straightforward thrills, or are prepared to be led deeper by Egan through stranger and less purely entertaining tunnels. On the other hand, readers familiar with the more self-conscious metafictions of Italo Calvino, Franz Kakfa and others may find 'The Keep' a little too postmodern-lite, and a little too American in its solutions.
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on 18 July 2008
This was an odd read for me because I'd read a really glowing, 5-star review so expectations were high.

Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to those expectations. It had a fairly light premise about a guy journeying to eastern Europe to help his cousin renovate a castle in 'spooky' circumstances. Then it cuts to a prison creative writing course and you realise the castle story is being written by an inmate.

By the end, neither of these threads get much conclusion and a third thread pops up about the prison's creative writing teacher.

It's kind of an enjoyable ride, but I didn't really buy into it and the ending was a big "Huh? So what?".
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on 7 December 2015
I thought The Keep was fantastic. Egan offers a unique and modern twist on the gothic novel. Egan is a skilled writer and the atmosphere in the novel is perfect – I had a sense of foreboding and uneasiness from page one. Egan manages to make shivers crawl down my spine at every turn. From the start I got a sense something was very wrong with The Keep, the mysterious Baroness and Howard and Danny’s relationship. Things take a sinister turn Danny falls (or was he pushed?) from the window of The Keep. I thought the second half of the novel after Danny’s ‘accident’ was much darker than the first half and slightly better written. I loved the strange and unsettling conclusion.

I loved The Keep and would highly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 9 June 2008
I found this story quite odd, it seems to jump from the main narrative with Danny the New Yorker visiting his cousin Howard in the castle somewhere in Eastern Europe and then quite absurdly jumps to the story of Ray back in the States in a prison.

Although I found some of the story quite thrilling and entertaining, especially involving Danny and the Baroness; I found the story rambles and jumps to such to an extent that I kept sratching my head with disbelief and re-reading several pages thinking I might have missed something important.

I was expecting something different and the ending left me feeling let down and thinking this novel could have been so much more.
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on 21 April 2008
Far from the usual one dimensional horror story, this is a story of colliding and intertwined personal histories with a delicious twist at the end. Requires a certain degree of engagement by the reader, and anybody who has failed to get beyond Dan Brown level is probably going to be disappointed - but this is a surprisingly moving and thought provoking tale.
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VINE VOICEon 24 January 2009
I almost didn't persevere with this book. I bought it for my husband (because of the gorgeous cover) and he gave up on it. I started reading it and couldn't get a handle on it until about a quarter of the way through... and then, bang. I was extremely glad I kept going. The rest of the book I read in one sitting. Not ghostly, although it is gothic. Lots of symbols and reflections that thread through the different narratives. A story of many layers and meanings, with rich descriptions and characters. It got better, and better and better, and finally I was so sad to see it end that I turned right back to the beginning to re-read it. I think maybe a second reading expands what you see in the story. I can see myself keeping this book and re-reading again in the future - and I'll be looking for the author's other work. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.Thank you, Jennifer Egan, for writing this great book.
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on 27 June 2016
Didn't finish it. There were some nice ideas in it, but it didn't hold my attention.
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on 18 May 2016
Brilliant book, as inspiring and enlightening as it is dark and disturbing.
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VINE VOICEon 18 May 2011
When I first picked up this book with its promise of the "creepy elements of gothic-castle novels" I expected a haunted castle, a brooding hero, a beautiful princess, maybe a vampire or two. What I got was a crumbling ruin, an imperfect protagonist, an ancient baroness, a multi-layered world and narrative within narrative.
The story starts with Danny fleeing some unidentified problem in New York to a castle in an unnamed European destination. There he intends to help his cousin Howard restore the castle and turn it in to some sort of hotel and retreat. There are unresolved issues between Danny and Howard, stemming from their childhood days and these cause Danny to experience a sense of mistrust and discomfort when Howard's presence. As we learn more about Danny, we discover that despite his obsessive need to be in contact with the world at all times (he even lugs a portable satellite dish to the castle to ensure that his mobile phone will work) he is a loner and struggles to communicate with people on an honest and open level. Even his encounter with the enigmatic baroness of the castle ends up in disaster, leaving Danny repulsed, disbelieving and even injured.
Just when we think we are beginning to get to know Danny, the scene changes to an American prison where the inmates are attending a creative writing course. It all seems to be clear at this point - Danny is actually writing a story about the castle, the baroness, etc. Perhaps it is autobiographical in nature - perhaps Danny really was at the castle, perhaps Howard really was his cousin. Regardless, it seems obvious that the story we have been reading is Danny's submission for his creative writing class which gives him some pursuit with which to while away the tedious hours in prison.
But then the narrative changes again, in an unexpected manner leaving the reader gasping for breath with the suddenness of the narrative shift. The narrator is not who we thought it was and the shift in perspective alters our interpretation of the story. The change is skilfully executed - one would think that the Egan would have given the secret away earlier in her writing, but she doesn't.
This story with its multi-layered narrative, twists and double-twists, vivid descriptions and honest characterisations kept me absorbed throughout. It's a bit of a slow-starter but it's worth persevering - you will be rewarded at the end.
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on 5 July 2012
I'm still not quite sure how someone can weave a story so intertwined with such grace, skill and flow and not drop a plate along the way. Mechanics aside, this is a touching and rewarding experience of damaged souls being beautifully human, written with a sensitivity that is rare and respectful. It's easy to misunderstand what the book may be about from the outside, and it seems to be able to cross genre because of its depth - there is a fear that it may be missed by those that would love it, as I do, but if you are looking at this and wondering if you need to give it a try, then yes, you do.
There is a maturity here in the writing that rises above the mainstream and avoids the usual profile and shuns formula. It is crafted with a confidence that doesn't bend to convention or corny apocalyptic endings, which is so refreshing and strong that I am in total admiration. Here is someone that believes in their art.
Stunning book.
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