Esther’s Space- journey through my life

February 3, 2008

Jennifer Egan’s The Keep

Filed under: ENG 597: Literature in the Information Age — estherspace @ 7:24 pm

The Keep is a book that I love and don’t understand at the same time. It was completely gripping, but I often did not know who was telling the story (the infuriating “I”!!), and which parts were meant to be ‘real’ and which ones were the fictional narrative. As soon as I finished, I needed to find out if this is Egan’s story. Highly improbable, I know, but strange enough that it could be possible.

So, off I went to her website, where I was encouraged to “visit The Keep in a different way” at this Random-House run site. It is a site purporting that The Keep is a telecommunications-free hotel in Germany, complete with a pool and a keep. The site even includes photos and testimonials, though currently the only one they have available is Egans:

“I checked into The Keep anticipating a brief visit, but it was a full three years before I was able to check out again. It’s fair to say that my creative powers were stimulated and challenged on a daily basis during that period. I’ll remember The Keep fondly, though I sincerely doubt I’ll be back.”

The three years thing was suspicious, and once you try to fill out an application to work at The Keep you are taken to a shopping site to purchase the book. Clever indeed.

What this all says to me, is that perhaps I have been somewhat conditioned to desire a transmedia storyreading experience. While reading the novel, I was itching to research the novel in order to flesh out the untold bits that aid in understanding, similar to what many fan fiction writers attempt. However, I would also argue that this bizarreness of this novel was an essential part of its draw, because if everything was made clear it probably would not have been as engaging of a story.

Another thing I wanted to comment on was the use of “I”. The narrator forces him or herself into the reader’s experience of the book, but the narrator also seems to shift to different owners of the “I”. The intrusion often seemed odd and uncomfortable within the narrative, but perhaps it was a necessary set up to the murder of Danny, when, all of a sudden, Mick becomes the “I” narrating. This makes me wonder, was the unnamed narrator before Mick? Is Mick Ray? They both have prison time under their belts, they both count things as a way of maintaining some sense of sanity (p 55). I don’t know; that the thing about this book, I have a lot of confusion, but I’m missing the right words or ideas to wrap them up all together in a gift basket.

And the Baroness.  She represents the old order, obviously.  But she’s also crazy, and why, why, why, why would Danny think it okay to have sex with her?  She only looked like a young blonde from at least 50 feet away.  Okay, so we’re blaming it on the alcohol-that-was-something-more-than-it-appeared-to-be.  This somethingmorethanitappearedtobe quality seems to pervade every aspect of the novel.  The architecture, the character’s locations, the landscape, everything seemed to have additional qualities that inexplicably transcended the ‘natural’ function of any one of these items.  Despite this inexplicably, I believed it.  I believed that there was some power or something about the pool that was outside of the normal realm of being, and I believed that Holly and Ray created a bond based on a look that was ‘just like dinner and a movie in the outside world’.   But I don’t know why.  Any suggestions?



  1. (This reply has been cross-posted to my own journal.)

    I’m very glad you brought up the website. I wanted to, but my post was running rather long and thought it would be best to keep it as brief as possible.

    I found the website from the back of the book, where the URL is written rather innocently. And I found, as you did, that’s in only a source of advertising for the book, probably attempting to add a bit of allure through mystery.

    I’d agree that it is transmedia storytelling. Were it only advertising, why would it be printed on the book? Granted, it could function as advertising for those who see the URL on the book and want to check it out online before making a purchase, but in my case — and undoubtedly in the case of many, many readers — I didn’t notice or visit the link until I had already begun (and in my case, finished) the novel.

    I found it somewhat upsetting that there’s a website. It seems highly unlikely that the keep, were it “real,” would have a website. Howard, who founded the place, is pointedly against such devices.

    This, I think, is where the publishing/marketing world conflicts with the author’s job as storyteller. Transmedia storytelling is a machine of its own, a form which, running rampant, disregards its content. Random House’s marketing team must have thought the website would have helped sell books, helped sell people on the allure of the book, and it probably did. But in this case, because of the content of the novel, transmedia storytelling detracts from the -art-of the thing, from its meaning. The keep — where you lock up your electronics for your stay — hosting a website? Showing photos of the place, rather than letting them be imagined? Unlikely. And if we’re to believe this is supposed to be the same keep as in Egan’s novel, then it subtracts from the believability of the story. It makes greater money but lesser art.

    Comment by parslow — February 4, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  2. […] 4, 2008 Esther mentioned Jennifer Egan’s and “the keep”’s website here, and this was something I planned on mentioning in class, rather than lengthen what I’ve […]

    Pingback by The Keep, continued « Joe’s Slate — February 4, 2008 @ 10:43 am

  3. Hi Esther,

    I agree that Ray’s manuscript could deteriorate (heaven forbid!) in the ground, and really that any piece of paper could be ruined in any number of ways. But I still think paper is more viable than other technologies for safe-keeping. When I want to “keep” something (hee hee), I always print it out. Anyway, I think it’s interesting that Egan had Holly bury the manuscript (I don’t think I’d do that!). Could it be an allusion to Ray’s death, or a completion of some kind?

    Also, instead of being for profit, (as Joe seems to allude to), could the fact that “The Keep” website provides no real answers or new information, be, in fact, a statement about how much technology can really feed our need for information–or increase our imagination? The website seems pretty tongue-in-cheek to me (the “laundry” is a stone building on a hill?). And the pictures are what you’d be likely to find on any Google image search for castles–not very specific at all. Also, The Keep did have a website in the novel, which is how Holly found out it was “real”, if I recall correctly.

    I’m more likely to believe that Egan’s comments about her stay at “The Keep” were really a sly reference to her time writing the novel. That, I think, is more in line with Howard’s message about imagination and the novel’s meaning itself.

    Comment by Eva — February 4, 2008 @ 8:41 pm

  4. […] the keep Esther and Joe are cranking ideas about the website for The Keep (head over to Esther’s for a link). Meanwhile, one of the gems on the website is a short essay that Egan wrote for This […]

    Pingback by More on Egan « Literature in the Information Age — February 5, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

  5. Esther,

    Egan’s book had me believing things as well. I think that Ray and Holly could make that bond because of the emotional disconnects they’ve had in their lives. Their meeting triggered a rebirth within both of them. I think Holly shut herself off from the world when her son died, and Ray/Mick when he took Danny’s life. The breakthrough that Ray has opens his mind, but also her mind as well. She realizes she has actually had a positive impact on someone around her. This would be a big surprise to a meth head who killed her unborn baby. Given the overall tone of self-healing in the book, I think that’s why I believed in their connection.


    Comment by timesnine — February 5, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

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