The Keep by Jennifer Egan


Originally published in 2006, Jennifer Egan’s third novel The Keep is a contemporary take on a horror story. It features stories within stories, different threads that weave together forming a haunting tale of two cousins and their childhood secrets…

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

Lonely New-Yorker Danny joins his now successful cousin Howard, who happens to own a crumbling castle. Together they make plans to turn the castle into a luxury hotel. But there are surprises held within the castle walls, which provide the novels creepier moments. There was a sense of unease throughout, the uncertainty of what Danny and Howard may find – whether it be a pool of sludge or a sinister baroness who doesn’t want to leave…

‘Or maybe it all comes back to Holly’

Alongside the story based in the castle is a second narrative featuring Ray, a convict imprisoned for murder. As part of his prison writing class Ray is telling a story – Danny and Howards. This certainly adds to the novels intrigue. How does Ray know about Danny and Howard? How is he involved? There is then the added element of Ray’s emotional attachment to Holly, his writing teacher.

“Are you sad to have nothing?”

There are a lot of gothic elements to the story, The Keep itself is sinister and this combined with the mystery surrounding Danny and Howard’s childhood makes for an interesting, surreal tale. There are some horrifying moments in this novel as Egan explores the emotional turmoil and childhood traumas that never quite go away. I found it a little hard to get into the story at the start due to the surreal, slightly disjointed narrative style. However, as I started to understand the characters a little more I enjoyed Egan’s writing. I loved some of the phrases used in this novel, particularly those describing character appearances: ‘Her way of moving was jerky, impatient, like she was shaking off a person she was sick of’

‘His own keep, inside him, where his treasures would be hidden…’

Whilst it didn’t grip me as much as I hoped The Keep is an enjoyable, complex tale that would appeal to readers who enjoy a more unusual narration style. Egan has combined traditional and modern elements to create a contemporary gothic novel that will stay with you long after you have read the final page.



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