Monday, November 25, 2013

Odd, but interesting

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

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