Book Review: The Many by Wyl Menmuir

I read the first half of The Many on the coach home for the Easter holidays and as I was physically moving farther and farther away from North Cornwall, I was simultaneously moving back towards it too. I had heard Wyl Menmuir give his writer-in-residence talk in early March and had bought a copy of the book too, but stuck in the midst of deadlines I had not got around to reading it until recently; it did not take me long to get through. At 141 pages the book does not seem like a great undertaking however having been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Hearing how much research and thought went into the writing I wanted to give it my full attention. It certainly deserved it.

The story follows Timothy, an outsider, as he escapes to an isolated North Cornwall fishing village and takes up residence in an abandoned house with the intention of doing it up so he and his family can live there. The village is full of speculation about why Timothy has come here and they are intrigued by his presence. One of the fishermen, Ethan, seems especially perturbed remembering the inhabitant of the house before Timothy and eventually takes him out on his boat. The results are miraculous, maybe even mythical, and churn the quiet waters of the fishing village—eventually provoking more and more animosity from the inhabitants. Timothy finds himself lost amongst the landscape he once strove to escape to.

Filled with dreams, memories, and the now the story has an air of it being slightly less than real but it does not overstep this balance. It has a lot of sea imager in it; the prose comes in waves of real and imagined thrumming along and there is a feeling underlying throughout it all that the story may simply slip away into the depths. The narrative poses a great exploration of loss and the effects it has on the perception of the landscape of your life.

I find it difficult to define the book, it seems to be on the border of the gothic genre with touches of suspense and fantasy but I would not define it as totally being part of any of those genres. The dreamlike uncertainty creates a story that I will inevitably come back to to try and glean anymore from the depths of the murky polluted waters that surround the tiny fishing village. The atmosphere from the book lingers on the reader, so much so that I felt I needed to have a day before starting on anything else.

My only quibble is that I feel it could have been longer and led up to more of a dramatic peak, yet I realise that that would have been unfitting of the kind of book that Menmuir was trying to create. He wanted an exploration into the intricate balance that loss and grief leave behind and it certainly delivers. For a debut it is a wonderful success and I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested.

More information about the book and where to purchase it from Salt.