Book Review: The Many by Wyl Menmuir

Timothy Buchannan buys an abandoned house on the edge of an isolated village on the coast, sight unseen. When he sees the state of it he questions the wisdom of his move, but starts to renovate the house for his wife, Lauren to join him there. When the villagers see smoke rising from the chimney of the neglected house they are disturbed and intrigued by the presence of the incomer, intrigue that begins to verge on obsession. And the longer Timothy stays, the more deeply he becomes entangled in the unsettling experience of life in the small village. Ethan, a fisherman, is particularly perturbed by Timothy’s arrival, but accedes to Timothy’s request to take him out to sea. They set out along the polluted coastline, hauling in weird fish from the contaminated sea, catches that are bought in whole and removed from the village. Timothy starts to ask questions about the previous resident of his house, Perran, questions to which he receives only oblique answers and increasing hostility. As Timothy forges on despite the villagers’ animosity and the code of silence around Perran, he starts to question what has brought him to this place and is forced to confront a painful truth.

The Many really got under my skin. I loved it, and wanted more from it at the same time, but ultimately as it was a book that made me think long after I had put it down, it has to be one of the reads of 2016. I like a book that provokes.

Menmuir has a real gift for portraying setting and atmosphere. His prose allows the reader to be on the beach or cliffs, or sea with the characters. It is mesmerising. The Many is set in a fantasy place in Cornwall – the granite cliffs and the locals anchor it firmly, but at the same time, it is dystopian. A bleak place, with strangely polluted seas marked by a line of do-not-cross tankers. There are fish quotas, alien fish and a mysterious woman in grey. Menmuir’s Cornish village does not match my own experience, although the ’emmet’ (the locals refer to Timothy as this) is a familiar term. This small community closes ranks against the incomer; it is stifling. The whole narrative is male-dominated, leaving me annoyed that there a lack of femininity. Where are the women? There is barely a female voice in the entire book. The women that bear mention are reflected by the main characters.

The Many is thin on dialogue, but then the narrative revolves around two introverted and sullen main characters – Timothy and Ethan. It is of these men that I wanted more from, or more from Menmuir on. Where was their character development? The stories of both men was hopeless. I think this is the genius of the book at the same time; the thing that you are left with. Wondering whether it needed to be quite so desolate… sad even.

Menmuir ultimately has given the reader a great story in The Many, and the mystery of Perran that beguiles Timothy. It is hard to explore more without giving a spoiler. Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries to this reader is the title. The Many. A wonderful title, but baffling in the extreme, because it does not connect me to the story. The Many what?

I would highly recommend this book, despite wanting more from it.

The Many was part of my 2016 Reading Challenge, as a book recommended by my local bookstore.

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