Sunday, 21 January 2018

Review - The Stone Tide: Adventures at the End of the World - Gareth E. Rees

Published by Influx Press 

‘The problems started the day we moved to Hastings…’

When Gareth E. Rees moves to a dilapidated Victorian house in Hastings he begins to piece together an occult puzzle connecting Aleister Crowley, John Logie Baird and the Piltdown Man hoaxer. As freak storms and tidal surges ravage the coast, Rees is beset by memories of his best friend’s tragic death in St Andrews twenty years earlier. Convinced that apocalypse approaches and his past is out to get him, Rees embarks on a journey away from his family, deep into history and to the very edge of the imagination. Tormented by possessed seagulls, mutant eels and unresolved guilt, how much of reality can he trust?

The Stone Tide is a novel about grief, loss, history and the imagination. It is about how people make the place and the place makes the person. Above all it is about the stories we tell to make sense of the world. (Taken from thebBlurb)

Gareth Rees has moved to Hastings. His house is a mess. He is haunted by the half-remembered death of a childhood friend, the gradual disintegration of his marriage and inexplicable attacks by seagulls. Hastings is the last stomping ground of Aleister Crowley (noted dark magician and self-publicist) the Piltdown Man hoaxer and John Logie Baird. What links these three figures with Gareth Rees and his adventures in Hastings is an intricate and heart-breaking puzzle that teeters on the edges of sanity.

This is a deeply personal piece of work. Like Marshland before it, this is a life, a landscape and a mind examined. It is one that is at once totally unique but also strikingly familiar, he appears to have captured what it is to be trapped inside your own obsessive patterns of thought, but, thrillingly (and reassuringly) he is able to navigate a way out of the maze.

My own study is a little bit like Gareth Rees house in the Stone Tide. I plan to put up shelves, get a desk I can work at and buy a swivel chair that doesn’t keep descending when I am in the middle of a fruitful sentence. But my own procrastination and imagination get in the way. The machinations and misfiring synapses of my tired brain hold sway and construct a more vivid narrative than the one the real world offers. I am often sideswiped by my own obsessions and unwanted thoughts that gain weight and resonance by the very fact that I try to avoid thinking about them. Rees does not do that, he opens the haunted music box of his brain and lets us in, capturing the nature of memory, obsession and dream perfectly. His work tears open the mind and exposes its vulnerabilities, nightmares and delights. The process of engaging with our own personal events and tragedies are bound up not only in our bumbled memories of the past but also in fiction, history and dream. This is the world that Gareth Rees invites us to explore.

We move seamlessly between his personal present and past whilst occasionally shifting into real and imagined history. Each element of the journey - whether it be exploring Hastings, re-imagining the final days of the deeply pretentious Crowley, Rees’ own fevered remembrances of a lost friend or the utterly painful examination of a failing marriage and the dreamlike powerlessness to stop it – lays bare the complexities, flaws and delights of the human condition.

There is a real heady rush in sifting through Rees memories and experiences. He allows us into his home, into his imaginings and his mind. He pulls apart his own inner and outer-life to enable us to examine our own.

Although The Stone Tide is set in Hastings, raising this town on the edge of the world to a mythical status through Rees’ esoteric exploration of its past and present; this book is ultimately about living. Whilst this is an exciting, fast-moving mix of travelogue, reminiscence, occult adventure and urban wyrd; in reality this is a deeply personal, profoundly moving and truthful autobiography. Highly recommended.

Chris Lambert

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