David Keenan’s fifth novel, Monument Maker, may be construed as a monument in its own right, aspiring to timelessness – a vast, often bewildering store of memories and narratives ranging across different periods and landscapes. Keenan, we are told, spent a decade writing the book, and the result is a text of colossal ambition.
At the very start, our narrator is a self-professed ‘monument maker’ who sleeps in a ‘rusting shipping container at the arse end of some half-flooded quarry’ and has devoted his energies to translating a text by Pierre Melville, a sculptor and architect. A fixation with the religious architecture of France gives way to a variety of meditations on time and art. In one passing description of the Benedictine abbey of Notre-Dame, Bernay, the building is explained as ‘the temporary holding structure for the invisible point of power that slows the past and the future, not to abeyance, but to a form of eternal rose garden’; in contrast, French chateaux merely trumpet ‘temporal power’. The churches demonstrate centuries of dedication to worship; yet, at the same time, they ‘are potentially much more powerful today than they ever were precisely because the vast majority of people no longer know what they signify’.
This opening gives way to a variety of narratives reaching from Scotland to deepest Africa, from the Mediterranean of the Second World War to space and spaceships in a science fiction section (the latter is one of several tangential endpieces to the novel). Keenan has fun demonstrating his imaginative