Review: Keyhole by Matthew G. Rees

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Matthew G. Rees' Keyhole was published by Three Impostors in 2019.

Matthew G. Rees

Matthew G. Rees grew up in a Welsh family in the border country between England and Wales known as the Marches. His early career was in journalism. Later he entered teaching, living and working for a period in Moscow (which has been a setting for some of his fiction). In a varied life, other employment has included time as a night-shift cab driver.

His writing has appeared in anthologies, chapbooks and magazines (digital and print). He has acquired a reputation for vivid and striking literary fiction that leans to the supernatural. Keyhole, his first collection of short stories, was published to acclaim by Three Impostors press in 2019 (also featuring photographs by him) and has been read internationally, with copies going to readers in Austria, France, Spain, Norway, Poland, Japan, Puerto Rico and other parts of the United States, to name just some of the countries. 

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Keyhole by Matthew G. Rees
by Matthew G. Rees

Several writers, Arthur Machen among them, have spoken of their certainty of our co-existence with another world – one that we are close to in our daily lives and from which we are separated by the finest partition; a place of ancient forces and wisdom, and darker, more peculiar things.

In his collection of short stories, Keyhole, Matthew G. Rees takes us through that divide and acquaints us with the places and inhabitants of this other world. Yet his stories aren’t mere escapism for their roots remain in our own recognisable universe. And it is here that we keep a foothold, sometimes only a fingerhold, as we reach into and explore the other. So it is that Rees’s eighteen extraordinary stories take us from strange seashores, across ragged farms, along eerie waterways and over mist-shrouded mountains, to altered small towns and one-time heartlands of industry where the mining has stopped and the quarries stand still.

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Matthew G. Rees' Keyhole is a masterpiece of literary speculative fiction. Beautiful prose and weird fiction elements collide and clash with each other in a highly enjoyable way in this collection. As a fan of literary speculative fiction (and especially literary strange fiction), I declare this collection one of the best short story collections I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I'm glad I had an opportunity to read this book, because it has everything I expect from litery speculative fiction and weird tales.

In my opinion, this collection is a prime example of why we need small independent publishers who are willing to publish quality fiction. The publisher - Three Impostors - has done a favour to lovers of literary speculative fiction by publishing this book, because it's excellent and compelling in every regard due to the author's elegant prose and sense of style.

There's something charmingly old-fashioned yet modern about this collection that fascinates me, because the author beautifully combines classic storytelling with modern and surreal elements. In these stories, the mundane and the unexpected intertwine in a pleasingly captivating and unsettling way.

Keyhole contains the following eighteen stories:

- Keyhole
- The Service at Plas Trewe
- Rain
- Dragon Hounds
- I've Got You
- Horsemen
- Bluecoat
- The Press
- Driftwood
- The Lock
- Queen Bee
- The Griffin
- The Comfort
- Bait Pump
- The Dive
- Sand Dancer
- The Word
- The Cheese

All of these stories are set in Wales. I found myself amazed by how effortlessly the author creates a sense of place and time in them that it felt almost as if he is writing a literary love letter to Wales and its rural beauty and shows his appreciation to an old way of life that is about to be swallowed by modern times. The unsettling atmosphere, which is enhanced by descriptions of decaying locales and beautiful yet bleak landscapes, is ever present in these stories.

Some of these stories are light-hearted while others are eerie and unsettling. I noticed that a couple of the stories are slightly less impressive than others, but despite the minor fluctuation in quality between the stories, all of them are fascinating and worth reading.

I was surprised to find photographs in this collection, because this kind of collections don't normally have any kind of photographs. Each of the stories has it own photograph, which serves as a kind of an appetiser to the contents of the story. These photographs have been taken by the author in Wales and the Marches, which is an area along the border between England and Wales.

Here are a few words about some of the stories and my brief thoughts about them:

This collection opens with the excellent "Keyhole", which tells of Theaxton who returns to his home town and yearns to see Brontë, who has been forced to keep herself hidden from sunlight due to her condition. I found this story compelling and was mesmerised by its elements of loss and yearning.

"The Service at Plas Trewe" takes places at a hotel called Plas Trewe where the narrator of the story works and acts as an under-manager. He has journeyed there and has become a successful hotelier. I enjoyed this story very much and was captivated by how fascinatingly the author writes about the narrator and his life.

In "Bluecoat", the past and the present become intriguingly entwined as a couple moves into a farm and the wife becomes fascinated by the old mansion that used to be a hospital during the war. This is a compelling and memorable story, because it's beautifully written and the events are captivating.

"Driftwood" tells of Davies and Susan whose friend Brynley Baines goes to the beach and sits on a log in the nude. The log is a massive tree that has somehow been hefted ashore by high tide. I was pleased with this story, because it's something different and the ending works well.

In "Queen Bee", Owen Roberts and his bees have found a perfect home on the grasslands of the peninsula, because both he and his bees are happy there. Soon Owen finds out that the celebrated and respected beekeeper Hywel Rhydderch lives near Owen's new home. I found this story pleasantly entertaining and twisted, because the author writes fluently about what happens between to the beekeepers and how their professional relationship comes to an end. The final sentence of this story reminded me slightly of Rhys Hughes, because it had the kind of stinging sharpness that can be found in his stories.

"The Comfort" is one of the stories that truly impressed me. It's a story about Harris, an elderly man, who fixes an abandoned house. I enjoyed the author's way of writing about the man's life and the old house, because his descriptions are evocative.

"The Dive" is a fascinating and relatively short story. It tells of Price whose finger is stuck in the grid at the bottom of the main pool at the town baths. It was interesting to read about Price's predicament and what kind of thoughts went through his mind.

The final story, "The Cheese", is an excellent and memorable story about a writer who meets the eccentric cheese correspondent of Llanymaen Evening Mail and finds herself being unable to get rid of him. The ending of this story is satisfyingly strange and approriately chilling.

Many of the characters in the author's stories are individuals who are haunted by their pasts and certain events that occured in their childhoods. They seem to try to grasp at a better life and travel from the city to the countryside or return to their roots.

I was mesmerised by the author's successful use of time shifts and surrealism, because the present and the past seem to become intertwined in many stories. These scenes can occasionally feel slightly bewildering and strange, but they are effective and lend a sense of additional weirdness and otherness to the stories.

The author's gentle use of quiet horror and weird elements is admirable. When I read this collection, I noticed how easily he created a sense of something strange going on and never underestimated the reader's intelligence. This kind of storytelling appeals to me, because I appreciate authors who don't underline anything, but let the reader work certain things out for themselves. To get the most out of this collection, I strongly suggest readers to read each of the stories carefully and without hurry, because the stories benefit from this kind of reading.

One of the things why I love this collection is the author's beautiful and often almost lyrical prose. Matthew G. Rees writes atmospheric, nuanced and elegant prose that is a pleasure to read. He is an excellent storyteller who effortlessly creates a captivating and eerie atmosphere that lures the reader into his fiction's compelling world where anything can happen.

If you've ever read any stories by Arthur Machen, M.R. James, Robert Aickman, Edgar Allan Poe and Joel Lane, you'll love Matthew G. Rees' stories and prose, because his stories are slightly reminiscent of these authors' stories and writing styles. There's something fascinatingly Aickmanesque, Machenesque and Jamesian yet modern about the stories that I find highly compelling. I think that this collection will also attract the attention of readers who enjoy stories by Nina Allan and Rhys Hughes.

Here are my final words:

Matthew G. Rees' Keyhole is a beautifully written short story collection that deserves to be read and experienced. It contains amazing and atmospheric stories that will impress the reader. If you have a yearning to read something different, eerie and compelling, you won't be disappointed by this collection.

Highly recommended!