If you read The New York Times Magazine, you might have noticed a cover story a few weeks back about bipolar children. The (heart-wrenching) article was written by Jennifer Egan, one of my favorite writers, the author of Look At Me and The Invisible Circus. I just finished her last book, The Keep, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
Archive for September, 2008
The Keep is a Gothic novel, in the tradition of Edgar Allen Poe or Charlotte Bronte - you’ve got a mysterious castle deep in the mountains of Europe, a madwomen locked in a tower, a foreshadowed murder, dark caves and medieval dungeons. But it’s also a very contemporary novel. The dark tale at the center of the book — about a down-on-his-luck man who is lured to his cousin’s creepy European castle — is, it turns out, a story being written by a prisoner who is locked in jail for reasons we won’t understand until the end of the book. And then, just as the prisoner’s own personal story becomes clear, the narrator changes a third time, and becomes the story of the jail’s creative writing teacher. One reviewer describe the plot as “Russian nesting dolls,” and I think the comparison is apt.
I loved that this novel was at once so very old-fashioned — and satisfying in the way that those classic, Gothic horror novels are — but also so very modern in its structural twists and turns. It’s ultimately about the power of fantasy and imagination to help us escape physical and emotional incarceration.