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Xstabeth Reviews

Xstabeth by David Keenan


David Keenan

4.00 out of 5

5 reviews

Imprint: Orion Books Ltd
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publication date: 10 Nov 2020
ISBN: 9781474617055

A short explosive novel about Russia, Scotland, sex and singer-songwriters.

4 stars out of 5
Jonathan Derbyshire
18 Dec 2020

"A legendary recording is at the core of this metafictional novel set between St Petersburg and St Andrews"

Xstabeth, his third work of fiction, is less susceptible to straightforward precis. “I’m not 100 per cent sure,” Keenan said in an interview, “what’s going on in it myself.” What one can say with certainty, however, is that music looms large in this novel, as it did in the earlier ones. (Keenan worked as a music journalist for 25 years.) And, at the risk of ignoring his strictures against “art that can be solved”, one could identify the mysteries of artistic inspiration and the creative process as one of Xstabeth’s central themes. That might, though, be a slightly reductive description of the way the book circles obsessively around motifs of visitation, haunting and states of grace.


4 stars out of 5
Carrie O'Grady
12 Dec 2020

"A haunting, visionary novel that moves from St Petersburg to St Andrews, with ghosts and saints hovering over every page"

Aneliya’s narrative is interspersed with commentaries written by academic disciples of “David W Keenan”, an authorial alter ego who died in 1995 after setting up a school of “magick, tarot and bibliomancy”. These go off at tangents from the main narrative, musing on the nature of memory, ennui, God, rainbows. It would be a stretch to say they shed some light on the book’s cloudy depths. But they add to the sense of a synchronous world being created even as you read, where past visions spark memories that echo the present, leaping across synaptic gaps with the grace of a bird in flight.

4 stars out of 5
2 Dec 2020

"as raw, warm, bloody and poignant as it is intellectually engaged"

It’s odd, to this reader at least, that Keenan’s interest in transcendence doesn’t extend to the rejection of hackneyed sexual groupthink. Everyone has their turn-ons, of course, some of which are potent precisely because they lack refinement; but it still might have been cool for this young woman to get sexually awakened without recourse to strip clubs, suspenders, punitive and painful sex acts and getting called a little bitch. Still, Keenan’s marriage of the sordid to the sublime and the erudite to the bluntly instinctual is a phenomenon to be treasured. Though possessed of a driving intensity and an abundance of ideas, his prose never feels didactic or dry.

4 stars out of 5
Soma Ghosh
27 Nov 2020

"As a rock’n’roll fairy story and myth about the Muse, it’s a triumph. I was less enamoured by its view of women."

The story of Aneliya’s story, this book you hold in your hands, has spawned a cult of its own. Its pages are interpolated by academics discussing stoner notions like synchronicity and anomic aphasia, and psychobabble about alephs, neurons and proteins. Tautly edited, the sheer stylistic euphoria of Keenan’s form seems to breathe itself to life. The real Keenan once described to me his novel about the Troubles, For The Good Times, as “an ouroboros that eats its own tail, forever”. Xstabeth is a psychedelic circle from darkness into light.

4 stars out of 5
Houman Barekat
6 Nov 2020

"Keenan’s rhythmic repetitions and short sentences lend a mesmeric quality to this story of a daughter’s protective love for her father"

The prose has a mesmeric quality, with lots of very short sentences, often three to a line, and rhythmic repetitions. Another writer might have made Tomasz the butt of cruelty, but for Keenan, who was a music critic for many years before becoming a novelist, the also-ran is as romantic a figure as the cult hero.