I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect this. David Keenan’s latest novel, the intriguingly titled Xstabeth, confirms that he is a writer who defies as much as delights. It’s experiential, almost existential, in that you don’t read so much as feel. It is sensational in a very specific way – a book which seems to create a bond between writer and reader which is rare.
While reading you can’t shake the feeling that you are sharing in Keenan’s love of writing, not so much a love for the word on the page but for the effect it has on his being. Phrases, sentences, even individual words, seem to come from nowhere, taking you by surprise and making you giddy with delight. To try and explain it seems almost crude. This is writing not meant to be defined – that would be to do it a disservice. But, of course, that’s why I’m here.
Set mostly in Russia, Xstabeth is in part a tribute to the great Russian writers, especially Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, and Nabokov, but also other Europeans such as Camus, Kafka and Sartre. It’s the novel Alexander Trocchi dreamed of writing, but never dreamed up.
David Keenan’s previous novels, This Is Memorial Device and For The Good Times, felt like a writer who had to get it all down, an exorcism of ideas and stories which had been caged for years, straining to be free.
Xstabeth has the feel of a writer at peace, at least with the undertaking of writing and the role it plays in his life. And in writing for himself he is writing for us all.