Book Review: “The Keep” by Jennifer Egan.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan
Publisher: Anchor
Pages: 272
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, History
Price: $15.95
Format: 3 Parts; 16 Chapters; Split by narrators

Find It: Amazon  /  Goodreads  /  Author Website

First Line: “The castle was falling apart, but at 2 a.m. under a useless moon, Danny couldn’t see this.”

Description from Book: Two cousins, irreversibly damaged by a childhood prank, reunite twenty years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe. In an environment of extreme paranoia, cut off from the outside world, the men reenact the signal event of their youth, with even more catastrophic results. And as the full horror of their predicament unfolds, a prisoner, in jail for an unnamed crime, recounts an unforgettable story that seamlessly brings the crimes of the past and present into piercing relation.

Topics Covered: family relationships, secrets, haunted pasts, family dynamics, self-discovery, history, psychology

My Review: I’ve put off writing this review for one main reason: This is my first negative review. In fact, it’s very rare that I don’t find some aspects of a book positive and star-worthy. But after finishing “The Keep” by Jennifer Egan, confusion, disorientation, and a feeling of being completely letdown sat uncomfortably with me.

“The Keep” is two stories in one. While the stories are “connected”, it’s a loose and confusing connection thrown at the reader toward the end of the book. The book description is very misleading; outside of the childhood prank and inmate narrative, the description does not accurately describe the book’s events.

The first storyline is of Danny and his cousin, Howard. When they are young, a prank is played on Howard which drastically changes who he is as an adult. (Side note – This is the opening chapter of the book but is not mentioned again until the end. Even at that, the prank barely plays into the storyline.) Danny, living in New York City as an adult, is obsessed with telecommunications and staying “in the know”. Howard contacts Danny out of the blue one day, despite not seeing each other for years. Howard bought a castle in a country he doesn’t know the name of, but wants Danny to fly to the castle and help with renovating it into a hotel. Danny agrees and so ensues their adventures and oddities at the castle. There is also a baroness holed up in the keep of the castle, refusing to leave despite Howard owning the property. Howard, his wife, his second-hand man, and Danny work on the castle in attempts of reviving it into a hotel that provides no outside communication and a true connection with oneself.

The second storyline is the narrator’s storyline. The narrator, Ray, is an inmate who is writing the story of Danny and Howard through a creative writing class in prison.

The storylines in and of themselves had all the ingredients to become wonderful books. I was unbelievably drawn to “The Keep” when I began reading, but midway through the book I started realizing nothing was connecting.

My four main issues with this book were:
1. The author does not use quotation marks to show speaking points, except in the final chapter of the book. While this is a writing style some readers enjoy, I find it confusing. It’s difficult for me to differentiate between statements for the plot and statements by a character.

2. Many mysterious and odd events happen in the book, but they are rarely explained or brought up again after their introduction. Upon finishing the book, you are left with a laundry list of questions.

3. There is barely any connection between the two storylines in the book. In fact, the narrative part of the book is somewhat more enjoyable than the actual storyline. With that said, Egan did not build up the Ray character, nor was much explained about Ray. You’re in the middle of the second chapter when suddenly Ray announces himself by interrupting Danny and Howard’s story.

4. The last chapter of the book is longer than most other chapters. I held hope that the last chapter would close all open holes, explain the mysteries, and tie everything together. That didn’t happen at all. Instead, the creative writing teacher from the prison is the narrator of the last chapter. She begins talking about being a bad parent and having substance abuse issues, out of left field. It did not tie into the book at all and created even further questions for the reader.

Overall Rating: 2/5

That’s what death is, Danny thought:
wanting to talk to someone and not being able to.

5 responses to “Book Review: “The Keep” by Jennifer Egan.

  1. Sounds very . . . odd. And not in a good way. Being left with more questions than answers can be good sometimes, but doesn’t sound like it works here! I do dig the cover, though. I had no idea what a Keep was until I went to Wales a few years back — and now I’m sort of obsessed with their medieval appeal!

  2. I actually liked this one and was haunted by it for a while afterwards. But I read it after reading a couple of her other novels, so I wasn’t put off by the ambiguity of it all.

    • Laurie – I definitely think if I had been more well versed with Egan’s writing style, I wouldn’t have been so put off by her book. It’s a unique style that takes awhile to “learn”. Do you have a different Egan book that you’d recommend?

  3. I thought A Visit from the Goon Squad was amazing, but there’s a lot of ambiguity and disconnectedness there, too. LOOK AT ME is more straightforward, I think. I haven’t read her first novel, The Invisible Circus, yet, but I own a copy. Should have put it on my TBR Pile Challenge list!

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