Keeper by Jessica Moor | Review

Esther Hannan-Moon

a

Content Warning: Domestic violence, violence, and suicide

a

There are very few books out there that can cause the reader so much anguish that it is almost painful to keep reading. But you must keep reading. You have to know their stories, their voices, and their hopes. Of course, I am referring to the five women living at the women’s refuge in Widringham, that Keeper revolves around. Moor plunges us into the ice, ink waters of their past, each holding a new insight into the goings-on in a domestic violence relationship. Every woman and scenario are different, struggling with similar feelings, yet their experiences vary. The message is clear – no two domestic violence stories are an exact replica, able to be packaged nicely in a textbook. Moor exposes the reader to the truths of domestic violence and the inner thoughts of survivors.  But throughout the book is the voice and perspective of the sole male character, DS Witworth. The experience of flipping through these pages is like a blowtorch to the soul – it’s not a welcoming warmth, but rather an inferno.

a

At the centre of the story is Katie Straw, a woman who has her own monsters lurking in the shadows, some of which may have caught up with her when the police find her body. Everyone believes she jumped off the local bridge, drowning, a suicide, but not everyone is convinced. Anomalies crop up in the case, the main one being that Katie Straw isn’t who she was presumed to be. DS Witworth and his new partner DC Brookes are called forth to investigate Katie’s death, leading them to her workplace – the Widringham women’s refuge. Although the focus of the investigation is on Katie, we are just as invested in the stories of the characters at the refuge and DS Witworth, the detective trying to solve it.

a

The ghost-like appearance of sexist and judgemental thoughts that float to the surface of Witworth’s inner monologue is subverted, but enough to rip a hole open in the story, to grate against the perspective of the six women (Katie included). The contrast is driven deeper as each of the six women privately divulge their past to us, spreading their hearts like butter on bread. The situations are revealed with trepidation, in jagged details, appearing and then vanishing when Moor interrupts their flow of thoughts with reality. The power of perspective, judgement, and empathy, are played off one another by sparring the thoughts of Witworth against the voice of Val Redwood, the owner of the refuge, the five women that live there, and the parallel story of Katie’s past leading up to the present time of her potential murder investigation.

a

The writing has a natural flow that simulates a stream of consciousnesses, engaging the reader with the character’s emotions. It builds gradually and leads us by the hand through the fire of domestic violence. The writing often mirrors the thought patterns of the women, especially the jumbled chaotic yet biting thoughts of Jenny, one of the women at the refuge. She is the only character wherein the narration moves to the first person, creating the effect that Jenny is breaking the fourth wall and addressing the reader directly. A device used by Moor in sparing moments to drag us through the truth, emploring us to understand and unravel the truth of this reality for ourselves.

a

Keeper almost feels biographical, it’s a political statement without suggesting a solution – there is no easy solution. As I was coming up on the end of the book, I began to get restless, flicking the pages, churning the words. It was the first time I had sat the with it for so long. I held my breath and then the ending came and my heart wrenched from my chest and flung itself into my stomach. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it is hauntingly devastating because, upon reflection, it all makes an awful lot of sense.

a

There is so much that needs to be said, both within the pages and off it, in our very lives, about domestic violence, sexism in its subtlest and not-so-subtle forms, and trauma. Moor has crafted a story, a gritty work of fiction that is in no way fictionalised. The fact that Moor’s Keeper is a truth that needs to be acknowledged in our reality is the very reason I was only able to consume a chapter or two in one sitting – this is an issue that is screaming for change, and yet just like in Keeper, the reality of it is that it remains a reality and never purely a work of fiction.