The reader’s first suspicion that all is not as it seems in Xstabeth, the enigmatic new novel by David Keenan, comes when its author dies in the novel’s preface. Keenan, we learn, was a writer and local historian who ran a correspondence course on the occult and ‘committed suicide by throwing himself from the top of the tower of St Rule’.
Xstabeth, we’re told, is the self-published novel this fictional Keenan left behind, along with a series of other works such as ‘“The Heyday of Craigtoun Park”, a lament; “Octogenarian Golfer Recalls Old St Andrews”, a lament; and “The Dutch Village”, sadly, a lament’. Xstabeth is not a lament but something altogether stranger. At its centre is a story narrated in the first person by a teenage Russian girl growing up in St Petersburg in Brezhnev’s time. Her father is a musician, and she begins an affair with his friend, a ‘famouser musician’. She recounts the relationship in bursts of telegraphese. These brief sentences never lead where you expect: