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The Keep Hardcover – August 1, 2006

3.4 out of 5 stars 189 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Jennifer Egan's deliciously creepy new novel, two cousins reunite twenty years after a childhood prank gone wrong changed their lives and sent them on their separate ways. "Cousin Howie," the formerly uncool, strange, and pasty ("he looked like a guy the sun wouldn't touch") cousin has become a blond, tan, and married millionaire with a generous spirit. He invites his cousin Danny (who as an insecure teenager left him hurt and helpless in a cave for three days) to help him renovate an old castle in Germany. To reveal too much would ruin the story, just know that The Keep is a wonderfully weird read--a touch experimental in terms of narrative, with a hefty dose of gothic tension and mystery--balanced by an intimate and mesmerizing look at how the past haunts us in different ways. --Daphne Durham

10 Second Interview: A Few Words with Jennifer Egan

Q: What is your writing process like? Has it differed from book to book?
A: My writing process seems to be a strange one, at least compared with other writers I've talked to. I begin with very little: usually just a strong sense of time and place--of atmosphere--and a few abstract notions that I want to explore. In the case of The Keep, I had a yen to set a book in what I'll call a gothic environment: an isolated, crumbling structure whose heyday is long past, and where eerie things begin to happen. As for the notions, I was curious about telecommunications: the way that cell phones and the Internet have made so many of us accustomed to nearly constant disembodied communication--a state traditionally associated with supernatural experience. I loved the idea of letting modern telecommunications collide with a gothic environment and seeing what would happen.

I write by hand--usually one long draft that I scribble out quickly (5-10 pages a day) and poorly. I do this almost completely from the gut, with very little sense of where I'm going. It's often in the process of this almost unconscious writing that I discover characters and action. When the first draft is done, I type it into the computer (the parts I can read anyway; I have wretched handwriting) and see what I've got. Not a word of that first draft usually makes it anywhere near the final draft--which, in the case of some chapters of Look at Me, my last novel, was sixty to seventy drafts later. I edit by hand on a hard copy, then type in the changes and print it out again for further editing. The writing itself always remains instinctive, but there is a strong analytical counterpart, when I figure out what I'm doing in terms of plot, characters, thematic underpinnings, and then scheme about how I can do it better. I save every draft until a book is done; a towering pile of paper that I eventually, joyfully, recycle.

Q: Some of the most powerful (and terrifying) moments in the book deal with claustrophobia. Are you claustrophobic?
A: I almost never write about myself, or things that have happened in my own life, or about people I know. I like to make all of it up--or at least, I think I'm making it up, until later I realize how much of my own experience has crept into my books, disguised even from me. For example: I'm not claustrophobic, but I've certainly been paranoid, and the two are closely linked. I wanted to capture the way that paranoia (like claustrophobia) can instantly turn a benign environment into an unmitigated nightmare. One question is always at the center of such experiences: is this real, or am I making it up? We live in very paranoid times. I was interested in the way paranoia can make someone turn threatening and aggressive in exactly the ways they perceive the world to be. They become the very monster they fear.

Q: What author/s have inspired you?
A: In the big, long-term ways: Lawrence Sterne, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Emile Zola, George Eliot, Robert Stone, Don DeLillo, Jean Rhys.
For The Keep, the list is slightly different. There are some fantastic (and totally insane) Gothic novels that I had a ball reading: Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, Matthew Lewis's The Monk--those are all 18th century books--and then from the 19th century, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, which is an absolutely drop-dead great thriller.

From Publishers Weekly

Claustrophobic paranoia, intentionally mediocre writing and a transparent gimmick dominate Egan's follow-up to Look at Me, centered on estranged cousins who reunite in Eastern Europe. Danny, a 36-year-old New York hipster who wears brown lipstick (and whose body can detect Wi-Fi availability), accepts his wealthy cousin Howard's invitation to come to Eastern Europe and help fix up the castle Howard plans on turning into a luxury Luddite hotel (check your cell at the door). In doing so, Danny can't help recalling the childhood prank he played on a young Howie that left the awkward adolescent nearly dead—or so writes Ray, the druggie inmate who's penning this novel-within-a-novel for his prison writing workshop. Subsequent chapters alternate between Danny's fantastical castle travails (it's home to a caustic baroness bent on preserving her family seat) and Ray's prison drama. There are funny asides and trappings (particularly digital technology) along the way, and the sendup of castle narratives generates some chuckles. But the connection between the two narratives, which Egan reveals in intentionally tawdry fashion, feels telegraphed from the first chapter, making for a frustrating read. (Aug.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 239 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (August 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043921
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043927
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
"The Keep," by Jennifer Egan, is entertaining popular fiction with a surprising literary twist. This novel contains three separate narratives, with three different narrators, yet each is artfully intertwined to create a satisfying whole--as a bonus, there is a thought-provoking thematic message...not something you typically find in popular fiction, and even less common in gothic thrillers! The prose is well done. It is difficult to juggle three narratives and three narrators, but I Egan has done an admirable job. I enjoyed this book not only for its intriguing structure and eerie story, but also because it kept me thinking about its theme long after I'd finished the last page...and, for me, that is often the mark of a good book.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
Jennifer Egan's third novel opens with neo-punk cyber-junkie main character Danny arriving at his cousin Howie's dilapidated European castle. Howie couldn't even pin down which country the castle is in--Austria, Germany, or the Czech Republic--"because the borders are constantly sliding around." Howie's dream is to create the ultimate spiritual retreat, a place to escape from modern conveniences and telecommunications and commune with higher powers. Lost soul Danny is not receptive to this idea; at least until he spots a young, blonde apparition in the Keep, the inaccessible tower of the castle that serves as "the last stand, the final holdout. It's what you protect, and where you run to when the walls are breached." Danny accepted plane tickets from his cousin as an escape route from his troubles with mobsters back in New York, but he rejected the physical isolation of the castle by bringing along his own bulky satellite phone.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
This might have worked out better as a collection of short stores or as three separate books...as written, it's an intriguing idea with lots of potential that really doesn't come together or feel fulfilling to the reader after it's all said and done. The initial story line is a group of cousins at a family reunion where something tragic and beyond mean is done to Howie by Danny. The book then shifts almost immediately to a prison where we learn that the characters we've just gotten hooked on are in fact fictional, the writing project of an inmate (Ray). From this point, the events of Ray's prison life and his attempted wooing of the writing teacher are alternated with the continued building of the Danny/Howie drama...after the "incident" Howie goes on to become a successful dot com entrepreneur with family and early retirement as a millionaire while Danny is a dedicated cyber-junkie living life in the fast lane. He goes to an unspecified location in Eastern Europe to a crumbling told castle at Howie's insistence (and to get away from his troubles back in New York). What should be a second chance for everyone involved (in both stories) slowly begins to deteriorate and the stories more or less parallel this spiral into bleakness for all involved.

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.
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