OR: The Many

A review that originally appeared on the Case Notes blog at the TTA Press website on 16/3/22:-

A slim book, weighing in at only 141 pages, The Many (Salt Publishing tpb) is Wyl Menmuir’s first novel. Timothy Buchanan moves to a never named coastal location, there to fix up the house that previously belonged to someone named Perran, before his wife comes to join him. In flashbacks we learn that this village (probably located in Cornwall) was a place they visited in the early years of their relationship. The village relies on fishing for its livelihood, but most of the trawlers have been abandoned. The four trawlers that remain active are forbidden to pass beyond a ring of container ships on the horizon and the fish they catch are all contaminated, bought in bulk by a mysterious woman from some unnamed ministry. Nobody talks about Perran, and although he befriends the fisherman Ethan, Timothy’s questions about the previous occupant of his house only arouse hostility in the locals.

This is an unusual and offbeat book. Taken at face value it reminded me very much of J. G. Ballard, with the same sense of the world wearing down, and that we are walking among the ruins. There is this sort of feel about the village, with all its mysteries. From the doomed fishing industry to the ruined house in which Timothy lives, everything looks to be falling apart, a movement that is almost apotheosised in the final pages of the work. There’s something too of The Wicker Man, with Timothy investigating the death of Perran in the same way that Sergeant Howie looked to find the missing girl, a similar importance to the future of the village conferred on Timothy, this plot strand culminating in the confrontation with Clem.

NB Next paragraph contains spoilers.

And finally, the book reminded me of Graham Joyce’s ‘afterlife’ novel The Silent Land, though the fantasy element in The Many is more in the nature of a coping method, Timothy’s attempt to explain and accept the death of a child. As we learn in flashbacks, Perran is the deceased son of Timothy and wife Lauren, and the inference, for me at least, is that the unnamed village and all it contains are simply a psychotic fantasy Timothy is suffering, a way for him to deal with and make sense of the loss he has endured. Ethan, the only other character whose viewpoint we experience, is perhaps another aspect of Timothy, seen most obviously in the way he is somehow implicated in the death of Perran, perhaps even guilty in some way.

Or maybe I’ve got it completely wrong. That happens.

Regardless, this is a beautifully written book, one that conflates personal and societal loss in ways that throw light on both, and at the same time apocalyptic in an existential manner, as the world falls apart at the end, doing so in a way that makes Timothy’s retreat into solipsism no longer sustainable. Yet for all that I liked it very much, I felt that at the end it was just a little too vague for complete satisfaction, that Menmuir had failed to find any aesthetically pleasing way out of the dilemma he had written his characters into, other than the philosophical equivalent of ‘it was all a dream’. A four out of five, rather than a five. Maybe even three and a half.

Yes, three and a half, most definitely.

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