In February, I interviewed former Arts Editor and author, Wyl Menmuir, about his then-upcoming novel, The Many. Having now been published, I went back through my old interview with Wyl whilst reading the book in order to really get to grips with the novel.
Firstly, however, I want to congratulate an ex-Courier Arts editor – and fellow English graduate – for making it onto the Man Booker longlist with his first published novel. It’s a quick reminder that, to quote, well, Mr. Menmuir himself, that “real people write books” and that any of us could achieve what we have. Anyway, I’ve blabbed enough: onto the novel itself.
The initial opening – a relatively well-known plot device of “man arrives in odd town” belies a far more unsettling and smothering atmosphere that hangs around the Cornish fishing village. What seems to initially be mere superstition and secrecy from the locals is only further made disconcerting by the rather gothic depiction of the world around them. With the perspective shifting between the newcomer, Timothy, and Ethan, a local fisherman who is incredibly resentful of Timothy’s arrival, the perspectives of the two collide, slowly shifting one another.
It’s a fascinating novel, but incredibly difficult to discuss without spoiling the plot. The first two-thirds of the novel feel overtly Gothic, as discussed before, appearing solely to be a story of a, well… fish out of water. However, whilst it may initially seem slow, the pull of certain clues, and the manners in which Timothy – and other characters – speak, indicate toward something being very wrong. Wyl aimed to discuss characters who “question why [they’re] in this place and […] what they’re doing and where they really are. It’s definitely about exploring, digging through to the more uncomfortable parts, the places we really don’t want to go”. The final third of the novel completely turns the first two thirds on their head.
I must say, I love novels which lull you into believing you know what’s going on, you’ve solved everything, and then throw you entirely into darkness, and Menmuir does this with staggering skill. I was shaking by the time I turned the final page – and that doesn’t happen very often whilst reading.