Sunday, 3 July 2016

Review: The Many by Wyl Menmuir

The Many by Wyl Menmuir The Many (15 June 2016) by Wyl Menmuir

The Many takes place in a seaside town gone to seed, a half-derelict place in which bountiful catches have become the stuff of legend. Most fishermen have abandoned their boats; those who do still venture out either return empty-handed, or bring back meagre hauls of lean, deformed fish. Newcomer Timothy Buchannan has moved into the house previously occupied by Perran, who died in an accident at sea some years ago. The house has been in disrepair ever since, but the locals don't take kindly to Timothy's arrival, and so insistently refer to the place as 'Perran's' that soon even Timothy finds himself doing the same.

Why has Timothy chosen to come to this decrepit town? The answer is found in a series of flashbacks: to Timothy's past (we discover he has been to the town before, with his partner Lauren, now inexplicably absent and perpetually about to 'join' him there) and to the memories of Ethan, a fisherman whose grief for Perran is still raw. Ethan acts as a second main character, his sadness and anger initially providing more solid foundations for the plot than the ambiguity around Timothy.

This is a slippery kind of story belonging to the same emergent trend as Andrew Michael Hurley's The Loney. It's tempting to categorise it as horror, but I don't know whether that would strictly be correct. There is certainly a folk-horror influence, with echoes of The Wicker Man in the townspeople's combination of mistrust of and interest in Timothy; the atmosphere, with its gloomy horizons, just-out-of-reach dread, and of course the sinister house, is suggestive of gothic fiction; the misshapen fish, polluted waters ('the chems') and mysterious visitors from the 'Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture' lend it a sci-fi edge. (Though I'm thinking of low-budget British TV sci-fi rather than the box-office-blockbuster/space opera kind.) Yet the story is too opaque to fit into the codes of any one genre, and few, if any, conclusions can be drawn about what it all means. It's a book in which everything seems to represent something else, but those meanings are not spelled out.

The Many unfolds like an unsettling dream, shifting illogically, asking the reader to accept leaps from reality to what seems like it may be fantasy (or may be a matter of perception). But it's not just a strange fable, there is humanity in it too: Ethan's palpable grief for Perran; the locals' struggle to adapt to a world in which their former livelihoods have become obsolete; the touches of tenderness in Timothy and Lauren's scenes together. Its portrayal of a community left behind by technology and bureaucracy, suspicious of the threat represented by 'outsiders', is recognisable and timely – perhaps even more so now than the author may have intended.

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1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great read! Thanks for your review.