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The Keep by Jennifer Egan

3.1 stars out of 5 stars

One of our members wrote this as their comments on the book and I thought it was so perfect that I would just share it as is!

“Three stars I think – the main interest for me was the style of the narrative.  The fictional author (Ray) keeps popping into the narrative with the exploits of his cell mate, fellow convicts and a writing class with a tutor called Holly.  Ray’s own narrative with characters, Dan, Howie, Ann and Mick, is chaotic, but true to the character of its fictitious author, who is after all writing for the first time in constrained circumstances.   Ray, serving life for murder, has to rely on his imagination, which is prolific and (possibly) fueled by more than prison tea.  His narrative includes some nightmare scenarios e.g. Dan knocking off a ninety year-old baroness and having spooky experiences around a stinking cesspit of a bathing pool, but some are undeniably comical, such as when he’s hanging on to a window ledge by the toes of his boots, trying to spy on Mick and Ann conversation.

The real author skilfully weaves the two narratives together and introduces in the final section another narrator, Holly the writing class tutor, who thinks she is in love with Ray and is as screwed up as her former students.

An interesting book, not for those who like a nice story with a beginning, middle and a happy ending, but quite satisfying if you like to work at what you’re reading while enjoying it.

All in all, a dark psychological tale, in parts echoing a bad dope trip!” 

Some of our members were none too impressed with the book as it was either ‘two books trying to be one book’, it was ‘too contrived’ and had ‘too many loose ends’. The ghostly bits were unsettling instead of just being scary. Certain characters are just not explained properly like the Baroness, and the teacher closing off the narrative was ‘pointless’. The fictional castle then being real struck them as being forced.

Those of us who enjoyed the book thought it had flashes of brilliance, how the ‘real’ writer wove the tale from ‘fiction’ to ‘reality’ and the huge twist at the end we thought was clever and skillful. The end where Holly dives into the very pool Ann speaks of in her little imaginings of the future of the castle is a satisfying ending.