The Keep (3 stars)

Jennifer Egan

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The Keep (Abacus)

GOTHIC PASTICHE

The slip-sliding new book from award-winning American novelist Jennifer Egan opens with a scene familiar from the 1930s Universal horror classics as Danny, a 36-year-old drifter, arrives at a castle in Eastern Europe.

Summoned from New York by his rich and powerful cousin, Howard, to help him transform the 900-year-old pile into a hotel, Danny is haunted by their shared past and suspicious of his cousin’s motives in inviting him to join his entourage.

Egan has fun subverting the genre, pitting her increasingly terrified protagonist against an ancient baroness and pitching him into a dangerous underground labyrinth. But is Danny the true protagonist or is it Ray, the creative writing student who narrates Danny’s tale? Because of the story-within-story structure, the narrative is stumbling and hesitant with Egan taking a labyrinthine route to make her points about the appeal of fiction as an escape from dingy, unpleasant reality. Still, her prose is lively and insightful, making her tale worth persisting with.

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