& Other Stories, Author, Book review, Fiction, literary fiction, London, Publisher, Setting, Tice Cin

‘Keeping the House’ by Tice Cin

Fiction – Kindle edition; And Other Stories; 242 pages; 2021.

I had heard plenty of great things about Tice Cin’s Keeping the House, but it didn’t really work for me. I just could not engage with the story, nor the characters.

The blurb claims it’s about three generations of a Turkish family living in North London who import into the UK heroin hidden in cabbages.

It features a cast of characters that is so vast it’s difficult to keep track of who’s who. That’s despite the fact there’s a dramatis personae at the front of the book. (I read this on Kindle and, unlike a physical book, it’s next to impossible to flick back to the front to look up names as you’re reading, which ruins the experience.)

That narrative is broken up into dozens and dozens of chapters, most only a few pages long, and each is told from a different character’s point of view. No sooner did I come to understand that Ayla, for instance, was the mother, courageous enough to take the plunge in the illicit import business, than the chapter would end and a new perspective would be introduced from another character’s point of view. Right from the start, the storyline felt disjointed.

The time frames also jump backward and forward, which normally wouldn’t bother me, but I was struggling to keep track of all the characters so my poor overworked brain could not cope with the changes in chronology, too.

It began to feel like I was reading something that had been influenced by our busy online lives, flicking from one social media platform to another, following snippets of conversations and news from a myriad of sources, and yet, for me, this style and structure felt too chaotic to make sense.

Yet the characters are well-drawn (if occasionally difficult to distinguish from one another) and the scene-setting and insights into ex-pat Turkish culture are exemplary. The writing is lyrical, original, astute.  There are sublime poems dotted throughout the text, too.

Some of the chapters, especially those with lots of dialogue, are arranged like theatre scripts, minus the directions but clearly outlining who says what, which are fun to read.

Ali: Funny. So we have three things we’re going to do. I send your gear to Jersey, the rest we’ll sell off to this Jamaican dealer I know – all very street level – and then I send leftovers to some posh houses near Muswell Hill or something. Full of university people. You don’t want everything going off to one place if you want this to be quiet.
Ayla: Jersey?
Ali: Yes. Taking the stuff to Jersey is worth three times more. Little bags worth three thousand sell for seven thousand. Once you’ve gotten someone on board, the hundred miles there are no problems. There’s about a hundred users in the place, so police know when there’s stuff on the island. You can spook them with a boo, though. Their prisons are full of non-islanders.
Ayla: They can’t fit more than a hundred in one of their prisons?
Ali: Something like that.

There are lots of Turkish words and phrases, all translated in the text, too, which adds to the flavour of the novel. And there’s a dark brooding atmosphere that infuses the story, one that drips with an undercurrent of violence and often blatant misogyny.

Keeping the House is not exactly a “fun” read, but structurally the author is doing interesting experimental things and clearly has a lot of talent. It’s the kind of work you’d expect to see nominated for the Goldsmith’s Prize, for instance.

Maybe add it to your list if you’re looking for something challenging and different or if you know this part of north London well. For me, I think it might have been the case of the right book but the wrong time…

13 thoughts on “‘Keeping the House’ by Tice Cin”

  1. Oh dear. I’m not good at vast lists of characters. And I don’t know North London well, I’m strictly a sahf of the river kind of girl. So I’ll give this a miss. Thanks for the hint.

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    1. It’s not a world I would ever want to enter but I find it fascinating to read about.
      Drug culture is all around us but remains largely unseen unless you step into the ring, as it were. Mind you, only last week I saw four people doing crack in my street in broad daylight without a care in the world. I’m pretty sure there’s a house across the way that deals. The police turn up on a semi-regular basis but I reckon they’ve decided to just leave it cos they can keep an eye rather than go heavy handed and force it underground where they can no longer watch what’s going on.
      And yes, am hoping to get 10 days off at Christmas. Have already sorted by Kayo subscription ($5 for two months) so I can watch the Ashes from the comfort of my sofa.

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        1. I know. How sad! But when the weather is stinking hot 🥵 (as it was last summer) the only thing to do is stay indoors with the air conditioning on. The great thing about Test cricket is that the action is often slow do you can multi-task and read books too!

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  2. I don’t like books which have to have a list of characters, I just read from the first page to the last and hope I work out what’s going on. (And audiobooks are like the kindle in that you don’t get to flick back a few pages to check stuff). I don’t know London, north or south, but “structurally the author is doing interesting experimental things and clearly has a lot of talent” does make the book attractive.

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    1. I actually think you’d probably like this one, Bill, but it’s definitely one to read in physical form rather than digital or audio. I do wonder if I might have enjoyed it more if I’d read it in physical form. I generally like the stuff that And Other Stories produce… they’re an indie press with a focus on translated fiction using a subscription model to stay afloat. This book was edited by Max Porter, who’s had his own successes as a published writer.

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  3. I have a copy of this book courtesy of my And Other Stories subscription which I’m not sure I’ll renew. Few of their books have appealed to me in recent years. This one I was intrigued by until I learned about the drug selling angle. It seems exploitative of something that is taking such an increasing toll these days—including my son’s best friend a few years ago. I am not opposed to literature that involves alcohol or drug use, but the purpose for including it must make sense or have value. As much as I appreciate experimentation, I am not sure this the book for me now (or ever?).

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    1. To be fair, it doesn’t feel exploitative and the drug selling aspects are actually fairly minimal. It’s more an extended portrait of an ex-pat Turkish community over time and focused largely on the women and the things they feel they need to do to survive. But I understand your concerns and I would suggest it’s not a book to read if you are feeling low because it is very BLEAK. It left me in a really yukky mood afterwards and I’ve had to seek out a black comedy / something lighter to read next simply to shift the horrible hangover this one caused.

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