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Kept by D. J. Taylor

Kept (2006)

by D. J. Taylor

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A few modern novels set in the Victorian Age read like they might have actually been written during that period. D.J. Taylor's "Kept" (2007) is one of them. Taylor, better known as the biographer of George Orwell and William Thackeray than as a novelist, shows a gift for writing in a Victorian voice.

Of course, this Victorian voice does make his book a bit of a challenge for modern readers. Two oddities about the novel add to the difficulties.

1. The story has no protagonist. The title refers to an attractive widow who is being held against her will in a spooky country home belonging to to man whose main interests are collecting bird eggs and raising vicious dogs. This man, James Dixey, eventually falls in love with his prisoner, Isabel Ireland. Yet neither of these characters, nor anyone other character in the novel, can really be called the main character. There is no main character. The plot shifts from scene to scene, from character to character, making it difficult for readers to find a high point from which to view the whole story.

2. Most fiction is told either from an omniscient, third-person point of view or from a limited first-person point of view. In other words, the narrator either knows everything or only what one particular character in the story happens to know. In "Kept," Taylor strangely employs both points of view at the same time. Phrases like "it seems to me" and "I think" abound throughout the novel, suggesting that the story is being told by some close observer of events. Yet a few sentences later this narrator is revealing characters' thought and private actions, things only an omniscient narrator could know. It's a bit bothersome not knowing who this first-person narrator is or how he happens to know so much about a story that involves so many different locales and so many different characters.

Despite these difficulties and these oddities, I found "Kept" to be enjoyable reading ( )
  hardlyhardy | Nov 25, 2013 |
Quit. ( )
  picardyrose | Oct 20, 2010 |
Taylor references - openly, the debt being acknowledged - a raft of great nineteenth century novelists in this 400 plus page heavyweight. Sadly, "heavyweight" rather sums it up. I found this rather hard going. For me, the key characteristic of Trollope or Dickens that was missing here was the liveliness. ( )
  dsc73277 | Sep 14, 2010 |
Whilst the writing and the language were evocative of the time, I was disappointed with this novel. Maybe I was expecting too much after having read 'Oliver Twist' by Dickens, "The Woman in White' by Wilkie Collins and 'Far from the Madding Crowd' by Thomas Hardy.
The Story starts interestingly enough with the seemingly unrelated deaths of two gentleman and the decent into madness of a young widow who is then in effect imprissioned in a decaying country estate belonging to a strange elderly gentleman entrusted with her care. However the story then takes a long time to come together, with each chapter featuring various, at times, seemingly unconnected people or events including, a pet mouse, a wolf, a failed grocery salesman, a train robbery, lawyers, mens clubs, a pushy mother and other seedy characters. I admit at times to considering putting the book aside. I was glad when I reached the end, where I suppose after what seemed a very long time,everything did come together. Overall though, It didn't live up to the cover blurb. ( )
  PriscillaM | Mar 21, 2010 |
A pastiche of course, but a totally intentional one. If you're looking for action and high adventure then this is probably not for you. If, however, you enjoy characterisation and descriptive prose, sentences constructed in the highest of high Victorian then read on. Both the descriptions of the bleak fens and the poverty of the London slums are brought evocatively to life. There are echoes of Dickens and Thackery and (strangely uncredited) Wilkie Collins. As a Patrick O'Brien devotee I was constantly reminded of his work - perhaps more because both authors are so thoroughly imbued in the period (although Aubrey and Maturin are a good 50 years earlier of course), rather than any direct comparison between the two. Cleverly the author writes from a variety of view points - first person narrative, excerpts from letters, newspaper clippings and the like. I think it is fair to say that no two chapters are alike.

The plot is almost incidental to the story but includes all the best Victorian themes - murder, kidnapping and theft. If you accept this novel for what it is then you will enjoy it greatly. ( )
  simon_carr | Dec 13, 2009 |
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DJ Taylor has crafted a satisfying 19th-century soup, but fails to engage the emotions in Kept, says Susan Hill
added by simon_carr | editThe Guardian, Susan Hill (Feb 11, 2006)
This clever and hugely readable novel constantly subverts its readers' expectations. It would be unfair to reveal the ending but it is fair to say that Taylor promises, tongue in cheek, one sort of novel and gives us quite another.
Julian Barnes in Arthur and George developed a documentary approach which produced something that was more history than fiction and will prove to be a fertile innovation. D.J. Taylor, in this novel with footnotes, extracts, and appendices, is blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction yet further. It is a powerful contribution to the changing practice of historical fiction, and it succeeds as a novel in its own right. ‘Pon my word it does!
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Please to remember that I am a Victorian, and that the Victorian tree cannot but be expected to bear Victorian fruit.--M. R. James
Beneath the signs there lay something of a different kind.--A la recherche du temps perdu
To my mother
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I will happily declare that there is no sight so harmonious to the eye or suggestive to the spirit as Highland scenery.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061146080, Hardcover)

Egg-stealing in the Scottish highlands, fraud and felony on the streets of London, and strange goings-on in the fens...Captivating and ingenious, full of suspense and teeming with life, "Kept" is a Victorian mystery about the extreme and curious things men do to get what they want. In August, 1863 - Henry Ireland, a failed landowner, dies unexpectedly in a riding accident, leaving a highly-strung young widow. Not far away lives Ireland's friend James Dixey, a celebrated naturalist who collects strange trophies, a stuffed bear, a pet mouse, and a wolf that he keeps caged in the grounds of his decaying house, lost in the fog on the edge of the fens. The poachers, Dewar and Dunbar, with their cargo of pilfered eggs; Esther the observant kitchen maid, pining to be re-united with her vanished admirer; the ancient lawyer Mr Crabbe made careless by snobbery; John Carstairs, in search of his cousin, the elusive widow; an enigmatic debt-collector, busily plotting an audacious robbery; various low-life henchmen; and Captain McTurk of Scotland Yard, patiently investigating the circumstances of the Mr Ireland's death and many other things besides - all are drawn into a net of intrigue with wide and sinister implications. Ranging from the lochsides of Scotland to the slums of Clerkenwell, and from the gentlemen's clubs of St James's to the Yukon wilds, "Kept" is a gorgeously intricate novel about the urge to possess, at once a gripping investigation of some of the secret chambers of the human heart and a dazzling re-invention of Victorian life and passions.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:57:58 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In the aftermath of a failed landowner's accidental death, his fragile young widow struggles to survive, his naturalist friend keeps a series of unusual pets, and an enigmatic debt collector plots an audacious robbery.

» see all 4 descriptions

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