Many acclaimed novels challenge the format itself, but few tear up the rulebook in the manner of David Keenan’s latest Monument Maker. It is a book of many books. Book One begins with a romance defined by desire, lust and obsession – summer loving detailed like never before. However, while this story continues Book Two whisks us off to Khartoum where each day brings new experiences and life-threatening situations.
From there we move to Africa, to Edinburgh... and this is only the beginning. But it is clear from the start that, despite the great detail, Keenan is not primarily concerned with people or place. There’s something else going on.
Monument Maker is an artistic testament to writing but also to the writer himself. Stories, themes, styles, and characters are interwoven, and there are nods to other artists and their works. There are also references to, and characters from, Keenan’s previous novels, with call-backs and literary Easter eggs to delight regular readers.
Despite initial impressions Monument Maker is not an exercise in world building, but one of exploration – of the past, present and future, of the internal and the external, and of art and writing itself. It’s a sensual book that comes close to being overwhelming at times. Poetry, plastic surgery, and pornography. Love, lust and Lionel Ritchie. Music, movies and micturition – all and more are present and frequently incorrect.
The prose often reads like a stream of consciousness with a dreamlike quality that can be deceptive, and Keenan’s uncommon way with grammar and punctuation are an important part of the process. Great care has clearly been taken with every single comma and clause as it takes great skill to make writing seem this effortless. David Keenan is pushing boundaries and pushing readers, but no more than he does himself. A towering achievement.
A version of this review first appeared in The Skinny