BOOK REVIEW: The Many by Wyl Menmuir
Wyl Menmuir's debut novel, The Many, revolves around the story of two men; Ethan is a fisherman and a well-embedded member of a community that's dwindling as a result of the poor fish stocks in the area. The waters are guarded by mysterious ships with the warning of strict penalties should the fleet cross that line. Timothy has just moved into the village, taking on a dilapidated house that holds a huge significance for the other residents. He's an outsider with his own story to tell and soon, he and Ethan find themselves drawn together by their respective experiences.
The decision to imbue the story with several mysteries, rather than just one, aids this enormously. The figure of Perran stands at the heart of it and is Menmuir’s most gothic element, a ghost of sorts that looms over the narrative and haunts the characters throughout. Ethan’s grief for Perran is the most easily-grasped element of the story and that exploration of loss builds out from him. The ever-present ships out in the horizon perform a similar function, commanding attention from afar, but never interfering directly. Answers to these mysteries aren’t readily offered or answered, simply left as symbols to decipher.
Menmuir crafts a kind of fable here, tinged with a folk horror element in the way the villagers close ranks against Timothy and their ways and sometimes ritualistic behaviour is presented as something uncanny and disturbing. The prose is sparse but effective in crafting a village that feels completely isolated from the rest of the world; we're offered no specifics, but none are needed. It is simply a feeling and an unsettling one at that.
It is sometimes difficult to get a handle on Menmuir’s tale, as it spends much of its time shifting like sand underneath your feet, though this is not a negative aspect of the book. Instead, it gives it a challenging quality, constantly asking questions of its reader without ever feeling that it is attempting to alienate. It aids the underlying horror inherent within the narrative, allowing imagination to take over from the skeletal frame that is laid out. It’s a tough balance to strike, but one which Menmuir handles assuredly in his debut work.
Though it was perhaps not written with this in mind, reading the novel during the nightmarish toxicity of the EU Referendum gives it an interesting prescience in its exploration of a failing, unwelcoming community's reaction to an outsider, the decaying environment that surrounds them both and the looming warnings of a distant bureaucracy. That fishing quotas, ecology and environmental regulations are also part of the ongoing debate feeds into that sense of a discussion in microcosm. The sense of loss that permeates here is not just related to the personal, but to the social and communal as well.
It might be a short novel, but it is a fascinating, searching piece of work. Wyl Menmuir’s The Many is a book for those readers who enjoy being challenged by fiction and left to decipher a meaning that isn't readily available.
The Many is available now from Salt Publishing.