*This review will include spoilers*
The Stone in My Pocket is a coming-of-age Scottish novel that tells the story of teenager Nathan who believes ghosts are speaking to him in the middle of the night. In a desperate attempt to find answers, Nathan joins a spiritual circle in the attic of his village bookshop, telling his parents he’s attending a book group to help him with his dissertation. A novel of secrecy, self-delusion and family tensions as Nathan desperately tries to add meaning to his life, author Matthew Keeley is a new voice in the queer literature world.
Written in the first person perspective of protagonist Nathan, this is a very character-driven novel as the narrative voice allows readers to gain an insight into young Nathan’s mind. A confused teenager, stuck in a home environment that most teenagers experience: family tensions, money problems and a distinct feeling of isolation, Nathan finds solace in unexpected places. Distinctly, that of Gothic fiction novels, his job at the local bookshop and the spiritual circle he joins on Wednesday evenings. For me, Nathan was very relatable as I resonated with feeling alone, getting lost in stories and believing things that subconsciously, we all know are not true.
Alongside Nathan, Keeley’s cast also includes Iris – the bookshop owner and leader of the spiritual circle who has an assortment of different crystals, giving readings for those who believe in spirit. Almost like a second mother to Nathan, I pictured her as someone resembling Minerva Mcgonagall from the Harry Potter Universe, a protective old lady that Nathan is finally able to be himself around. My only fault with the characters is that I wish Keeley would have developed the likes of Patrick, Marcy and the other circle members alongside Emily who only really exists as the girl who comes into the bookshop. We learn toward the end that Patrick hurt his leg and seeks spirit for healing purposes but I really wished this was introduced earlier, making these side characters more three dimensional in nature.
Written with beautiful prose, Keeley’s language also powerfully evokes all of the emotions you want when you read a good novel. Wonderfully witty at times as Nathan questions whether he is a good witch or a bad witch (I laughed out loud at that line), Keeley expertly builds the tension of the supernatural edge the novel possesses, making you feel like you’re sat next to Nathan as he connects with his spirit animal.
Slow-paced in nature, I did however seek more action from the book. There’s no real plot twist or surprising climax that shocked me. Yes, we have the twist that Nathan realises that spirit is in fact not real. That the smell he thought was spirit was actually Freya, his cat and the noise he thought was coming from his dead granddad’s ghost was his father. That he’s not only been lying about the spiritual circle but also about the fact his dead brother died when he was younger. Yet, despite this, I spent most of the book expecting something big, something dramatic to happen, when in fact, it’s simply just Nathan discovering the truth of who he truly is.
But I guess that’s what the novel’s main lesson is about – Nathan’s journey to accepting himself. There’s one line at the end that has stuck with me in particular. Nathan’s dad states: “you know we love you?” to which Nathan thinks “I didn’t know” and honestly? It broke my heart. By the closing page, the lies he’s built around himself are broken down, cast aside as Nathan moves to England for a new life, accepting himself for who he finally is.
Also, I’m not sure if I was just being incredibly dumb and did not notice it sooner, but I wish that Nathan’s sexuality was introduced from the beginning. Subtle in characterisation, it’s not until you’re almost finished that you realise he’s gay. Whether this is intentional or not, it seems almost like an after thought that could have been developed further, sooner.
Overall, The Stone in My Pocket is an enjoyable read of a teenage boy who convinces himself to believe things that he knows, realistically, are not real as a means to escape from his reality and find the peace he seeks. With a supernatural edge to it, the novel is relatable, incredibly well-written and an easy read for fans of the young adult, coming-of-age genre.
If this sounds like a good read you can’t wait to get your teeth into, keep an eye out as Matthew Keeley’s The Stone in My Pocket is set to be published this March by The Conrad Press.
Words by Lucy Lillystone
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The Stone in My Pocket will be available on Amazon and on The Conrad Press website from 4th March