The Keep: Unabridged Value-Priced Edition Audio CD – Audiobook, CD
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From Publishers Weekly
When Gurner reads conversations, he announces the name of the person before reading the dialogue. This technique is as annoying as it is helpful, making the recording sound more like a grade school teacher reading aloud rather than a sophisticated audiobook production. Inmate Ray is working on a gothic novel at his prison's writing workshop. Eagan alternates chapters between him in prison and the adventures of his alter ego, Danny, within the novel. The speech patterns of Ray's fellow inmates are nicely individualized, but the women who inhabit the embedded novel are too similar. Geneva Carr appears only in the third part of the novel (on the last disc). As the voice of Ray's creative writing teacher and love interest, Carr explores the complexities of a woman who falls for a prisoner and makes listeners wish she'd had more to do in this production. The Keep is a clever, quirky novel that ping-pongs the listener between a medieval castle that kept people out and a modern prison that fences people in until the two worlds collide.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Audio CD edition.
The author of The Invisible Circus (1994) and Look at Me (2001) employs gothic conventions in an absorbing examination of the clash between the Old and New Worlds. The story of two cousins, Danny and Howard, who reunite to renovate an eastern European castle Howard has purchased, is narrated by Ray, a tormented convict who is desperate to make a connection with his writing teacher in the prison. Insisting the story is one that has merely been passed on to him by another man, Ray tells about how Danny leaves New York ambivalent about the prospect of helping Howard with his project. When Danny and Howard were boys, Danny and his other cousins played a cruel prank on Howard, and Danny worries that Howard, now a powerful man, hasn't forgiven him. Danny arrives at the castle uneasy, and his main desire is to set up a satellite dish and reconnect with the outside world. When the dish is lost, a devastated Danny ventures into the castle keep, where one of the family members of the castle's original owners, the baroness, has stationed herself. Danny's encounter with the baroness sends the novel careening toward a jaw-dropping revelation. Atmospheric and tense, this is a mesmerizing story. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Author Jennifer Egan threads a separate story through the castle tale. A convict named Ray takes a prison writing class to alleviate boredom, and it turns out that what he's writing is Danny and Howie's story about the castle. Ray has his own challenges in prison, not the least of which is his infatuation with Holly, the writing teacher. The prison story and the castle story finally intersect, as you know they will, and now is the time for a predictable but entertaining resolution.
But wait - now here's Part Three, introducing a brand new POV from a secondary character. This part feels poorly integrated with the rest of the book and as a device for wrapping up the loose ends, it's not as effective as it should be. Part Three was a disappointment but I saw it through to the end.
The Keep has some entertaining dialogue and the characters are promising if not well enough developed. In particular the settings have great scope, but they're not well developed either.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The first narrative is a creepy modern gothic novel, complete with an ancient crumbling castle, a long-suppressed motive for revenge, a wicked old baroness who morphs into a young sexpot, ghostly apparitions, betrayals, obsessions, strange sounds, dark closed spaces, and dank smells. This narrative is told by Danny, a hip, ex-con, Generation-X, self-proclaimed cell phone junkie--a psychologically damaged survivor of a long string of failed attempts to make any kind of stable life. As the story opens, he has just arrived at a ruined castle near Prague owned by his multi-millionaire cousin Howard. Howard aims to turn the castle into a new-age psychological and spiritual retreat for people who want temporarily to take a vacation from the high-tech multi-media world and reacquaint themselves with their inner primitive imaginations. Howard has brought his cousin Danny over to the castle to help with the renovations...or is that just his cover story? The longer Danny stays in the castle away from any connection to the outside world, the greater his paranoia grows. Danny dwells on very real revenge motivations that his cousin might harbor against him for an extremely cruel childhood prank. Psychologically, Danny starts to unravel and the plot turns ominous.
The second narrative concerns the life of the author of the first narrative, a prisoner named Ray doing time for murder and writing a novel in installments as part of a behind-bars creative writing course. Ray says the castle story is something that a buddy told him, but we're never convinced of that...the story seems too real. Ultimately, the narrator's true identity in the story is revealed when Ray's full name is disclosed, but by that time we already suspect which character he is. Most of the prison narrative hinges on Ray's infatuation with his teacher, Holly--a woman who slowly starts to return his interest.
Holly is both the narrator and subject of the brief third and final section. Since the end of the second part already nicely concludes the previous two narratives, the reader expects this very short third section to serve as an epilogue. But Egan uses this section mainly to expand on her theme, not the narrative. I suspect that this will puzzle and disappoint popular fiction readers, who typically read a novel primarily for the story. Personally, I loved the ending. It highlighted the theme and brought it full-circle back to the beginning--that is, to the point early in the story where Howard and his wife describe how the round "Imagination Pool" might be used by future guests (see page 47).
So what is the theme of this unique gothic novel with a small literary twist? Actually it is quite serious. Egan aims to show that modern civilization robs its citizens of their imagination. Early in the novel, Danny's cousin Howard says: "We've lost the ability to make things up. We've farmed out that job to the entertainment industry, and we sit around and drool on ourselves while they do it for us" (p. 45). What the author is telling us, is that modern culture, with its ubiquitous cell-phone-wifi-video-clip-television-film culture, has imprisoned people's imaginations--they have lost touch with their innate ability to imagine and create entertaining narratives out of everyday experience. If modern man is bored, he turns on the TV or drops out with drugs. If ancient man was bored, he created ghost and goblins, saw monsters and gods floating overhead in the patterns of clouds, and felt ecstasy simply by experiencing the beauty of the natural world. This theme reverberates throughout the novel and the lives of its three main characters, and since there are multiple narrators, we get to understand this effect from various viewpoints.
This work is primarily an entertaining story, a compelling creepy gothic thriller--the addition of a strong literary theme is a bonus, and as I said in the beginning, not something you often find in popular fiction. I suspect this is the primary reason why this novel has produced so many mixed reviews: it neither fully satisfies the popular fiction reader nor the literary reader, but it is a very good book.
My advice: enjoy the story, but take a little time to think about, and perhaps savor, the theme, if you do, it will heighten and prolong your enjoyment of the whole.
Howie and Danny have a tumultuous past relationship, ever since Danny played a childhood prank that went terribly wrong. Danny has nagging doubts about Howie's motives for summoning him to his castle-in-transformation, and as strange events unfold, he's not sure who to trust and what is authentic. (It doesn't help that he's naturally predisposed to paranoia, of course.)
Early on, Egan tosses in another aspect to the story: it is actually a creative writing task for a hardened prisoner. Our author, Ray, only joined the writing class to escape his cell, but his fictional work takes on a life of his own, especially after he develops a connection with his fragile, recovering teacher. He empathizes his character Danny, but he makes it clear that Danny isn't a self-portrait.
The narrative about Danny and the ghosts of the Keep smoothly parallels Ray's struggles in prison, and subtle connections can be made between the plot twists in both Ray and Danny's lives. The stories converge in a natural manner (yes, Egan can make the supernatural entirely real). The Keep is one of the best books of the year, and it's nearly impossible for a reviewer to re-create the experience in a few short paragraphs. Go ahead and pick this one up to see for youself!
Egan seems unable to chose a genre and stick it out so we wind up with a mixed bag of modern gothic, part suspense thriller, part morality tale, with a bit of romance and redemption thrown in near the end. I truly wanted to like the story, but none of the characters in the three stories are fully fleshed out, the endings are quite abrupt and left me feeling confused about what it all really meant in the end (what the author's intended message was), and the writing was quite choppy, though I do get that some of that was intentional as part of the storyline of having a convicts writing assignment as 1/3 it. I guess it's disappointing mostly because it started out with such promise...a crumbly old castle complete with Keep and cantankerous Baroness, certainly a wonderful atmospheric element for any story...but it just never fully develops. I wanted more from it, the parallels between the Keep story and the prison are interesting, one can see a kind of reverse parallel between the Keep itself (to keep the inhabitants safe and the bad guys out) and the prison (to keep the bad guys in and the outside world safe) but in the end, it's an ambiguous connection that never really delivers anything satisfying. I wound up giving The Keep three stars instead of four because I felt so unsatisfied at the end. I'd definitely check this out from the library or wait until the paperback comes out, I wouldn't pay hardback prices for a book that just doesn't deliver on any of its plots when it's all said and done.
Of all the books I have read this year, this is the worst. I agree almost entirely with Simone Oltolina, whose review is currently (as I write this) posted as "most helpful unfavorable review." But I disagree with the reason she says "The Keep" doesn't work. It's not because there are narrative threads left dangling. The problem is more pervasive. It is that Egan can't fill out scenes: she can't describe characters, and she can't even describe settings. The dank pools, castle keeps, dungeons, and forests here have been conjured so intensely, by so many people -- from Novalis to King! -- that it just won't do to have them sketched so cursorily, so feebly, with so little visual sense. I propose this test: take any scene in the novel, and try to picture it. What you'll get is only a Hollywood set, and the details of that set will be from the movies you have seen, not even from the novel. The book is threadbare, and Egan is not a novelist: a least not the kind she hopes, in this book, to be.
I am sorry to be so poisonous, but that is what happens when I give my time to a book that is so poor. Maybe amazon's reviews serve a cathartic purpose. I want to put this one behind me, and maybe warn someone else at the same time.