Ceri Shaw



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Keyhole - A Stunning Debut From A Major New Talent

user image 2020-06-15
By: Ceri Shaw
Posted in: Book Reviews
Matthew G. Rees.jpg keyhole.jpg


...the unknown world is in truth, about us everywhere, everywhere near to our feet, the thinnest veil separates us from it, the door in the wall of the next street communicates with it.

'The London Adventure', Arthur Machen

... I saw a star shining over our valley, a keyholeful of light, telling me I was home.

'The Water Music & Other Stories', Glyn Jones

It is always a pleasure to welcome a major talent to the Welsh literary scene and 'Keyhole', by Matthew G. Rees clearly establishes the author's claim to this title. The 18 stories in this collection are set in various locations in Wales although mainly in Carmarthenshire and the Marches. They all exhibit magical and supernatural qualities and exemplify the author's fascination with the 'liminal' or, 'that territory where the known and the unknown meet and interact.'. In this respect his writing is reminiscent of the work of one of his literary heroes - Arthur Machen. Indeed this collection is published by a small publishing house in Newport, Gwent (Three Impostors) which specialises, amongst other things, in reprints of old Machen classics.

Matthew has worked at various times as a journalist, teacher and night shift cab-driver. He also has a PhD in creative writing from Swansea University and is the author of two  plays. He was raised in Gwent, the Welsh border country, an area rich in myth and legend. He has said that - "It's a place where you constantly find yourself stumbling across strange stories, that aren't always myths,...".

All the stories in this collection have a mythical, spellbinding quality to them. Consider the tale of Rhys the inhabitant of a remote Welsh farm - Yr Hollt. His dedication to his hobby (flower pressing) attracts the attention of some visiting local gypsies or migrant workers. Their presence is never really explained but they do have magical powers which are revealed to Rhys with tragic consequences. One detects the influence of James Frazer here, but with an ironic savage twist.

As one might expect a collection like this is filled with bizarre and eccentric characters. In 'Sand Dancer' we meet Jobey whose obsession with Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Lauren Bacall amongst others betrays an almost pathological reverence for the popular music and mores of a bygone era. Whilst metal detecting on a local beach he is granted an opportunity to realise his dreams in a most unexpected fashion.

In 'The Lock' we are treated to a cautionary, almost moral, tale concerning a property developer who revisits his youth by taking a narrow boat excursion on the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal. He panics as his surrondings become, by turn, unfamiliar and threatening. In the closing scene nature, 'red in tooth and claw', exacts punishment for his depredations and a primitive justce is served. 

The above short account may give the impression that all Rees's stories lead to a ghastly denouement, and many of them do, but there is also humour and pathos in these pages. In 'Dragon Hounds' two mythical beasts are invoked to resolve a love feud in an old peoples home. The darkly humorous manner in which they render their assistance is one of the many fine passages in this collection.

These superbly crafted and extraordinary tales delight in many ways not the least of which is the vivid description of the Welsh countryside, villages and farm interiors. Coinsider the following . In 'The Press' we read that:- "My parents first brought me here when I was young. As a small boy I was drawn to the heavy black range in the kitchen (that I was forbidden to touch). To me it was a train, inexplicably lodged in the walls of the house, yet of the kind an old man like Rhys would surely catch." Another tale opens with the following evocation of an overcast evening on a Welsh beach:- "Conger eel sky, thick, endless and monger slab-heavy on the shore."

In conclusion this is an exciting debut from a major new talent. These stories never fail to delight and intrigue and we have no hesitation in recommending 'Keyhole' to anyone with a taste for fine writing and exquisite story telling. You will not be disappointed!